Rebels Plot to Invade Union Soil! Lincoln Wants Kentucky

Tuesday, October 1, 1861

General Joe Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Potomac still occupied the general position it held following the victory at Bull Run in July. Some had wished for an invasion of Washington immediately after the battle, but months had passed with little movement, aside from ordering advanced troops away from the enemy near Falls Church. Unsure which course to take, advance or retreat, Johnston asked President Davis to see the Army for himself.

Davis arrived the previous evening, staying with General Beauregard, one of two corps commanders in Johnston’s Army. It wasn’t until evening of this date that the President sat down with Generals Johnston, Beauregard and Smith (the other corps commander).

Together, the Generals put up a united front, suggesting Beauregard’s plan to invade Maryland and maneuver north of Washington, forcing the Union Army of the Potomac, under General George McClellan, out into the open. All were aware that McClellan was building his Army which, if allowed to grow until the spring campaign season, could be too large to stop.

For this plan of invasion to succeed, all three Generals agreed that reinforcements were needed. While President Davis was in favor of an invasion and understood that time was of the essence, he couldn’t understand how Johnston’s Army was only 40,000 strong after so many additional troops had been forwarded. Of these 40,000, many were untrained and far from ready to take the field.

Davis asked the all-important question: how many troops would be needed “to cross the Potomac, cut off the communications of the enemy with their fortified capital, and carry the war into their country?”

General Smith figured that 50,000 well-trained and armed men could accomplish it. Both Johnston and Beauregard, however, thought Smith was a bit too optimistic. They reckoned it would take 60,000.

Davis was shocked. The fronts in Kentucky, Western Virginia, even Texas and New Mexico, were all screaming for more troops. The Confederacy simply didn’t have enough manpower to throw into Johnston’s Army of the Potomac.

It was a valid point, which Johnston had considered. The needed men, thought Johnston, could be pulled from places like the Carolinas and Georgia. To back up the controversial idea, he reasoned that the Carolinas could only be taken if Virginia fell. Similarly, the Union troops in Kentucky could only remain in Kentucky if McClellan was victorious. Johnston reasoned that everything depended upon the Virginia theater of war.

This, thought Davis, was both politically and militarily unsound. Politically, he couldn’t just strip away the state troops to reinforce the army in Virginia. Militarily, even if he was able to acquire the troops, there weren’t enough arms to equip them for battle.

President Davis then proposed, in fine detail, a raiding party that could be sent into Maryland to annoy the enemy. All three Generals, frustrated and thwarted, rejected Davis’ plan as being impractical and not worth the risk.

The wished-for invasion of Union soil could not happen. Beauregard, who authored the plan, was furious. Johnston, who was never quite sold on the idea, began the preparations to pull the entire Army of the Potomac south towards Centreville. 1

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Lincoln Orders Campaign in Kentucky

As Davis and his Generals plotted their next move, President Lincoln’s mind was made up. He wrote a plan for a campaign to begin almost immediately towards Cumberland Gap, Kentucky. “On, or about the 5th. of October, (the exact day to be determined hereafter),” wrote the President, “I wish a movement made to seize and hold a point on the Railroad connecting Virginia and Tennesse, near the Mountain pass called Cumberland Gap.”

Lincoln explained that 6,000 to 8,000 Confederates under General Felix Zolicoffer were at Barboursville, guarding the gap. The Union forces under General Thomas were 6,000 strong at Camp Dick Robinson, seventy-five miles north of Barboursville. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s 8,000 Union troops were on Muldrough’s Hill (near Elizabethtown), but a similar number of Rebels were commanded by General Buckner nearby.

Like the Confederates in Virginia, Lincoln realized that more troops would be needed to launch a successful campaign. Unlike the Confederates, however, Lincoln knew where to get them. Understanding that General Fremont in Missouri and General McClellan in Washington would also need reinforcements, he allowed “all from Wisconsin, Minesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, not now elsewhere, be left to Fremont.” McClellan would be given “all east of the [Allegheny] Mountains.” That left “all from Indiana and Michigan,” as well as all from Ohio not needed in Western Virginia be sent to General Robert Anderson, commanding the Department of Kentucky in Louisville, for the coming campaign.

Lincoln wanted the Kentucky campaign and another campaign he was formulating for the North Carolina coast to happen simultaneously. He warned Generals Thomas and Sherman to “respectively watch, but not attack Zollicoffer, and Buckner.” When all was ready, Sherman was to hold his position while the invasion troops from Cincinnati and Louisville met up with Thomas’ troops for a push towards Cumberland Gap.

Like all military plans, troops numbers, dispositions and commanders could all change overnight. Lincoln’s plan, while sound on paper, might not translate to reality as he had, no doubt, hoped.2

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Fremont Punks Pope?

General Fremont’s Army of the West gathered in Missouri to assail the now-retreating Missouri State Guard, under General Sterling Price. Given command of the Army’s right wing, General Pope returned from a recruiting mission in Iowa to find things in utter confusion. Pope’s orders from Fremont were to meet up with two regiments at Boonville. When Pope arrived, there were no troops at all in the town. Fremont, for some reason, had recalled them and not informed Pope.

Pope was furious at Fremont, writing to his father-in-law on this date: “Fremont shows is inefficiency more and more every day and walks about at Jefferson City with his hands to his head as if he were on the verge of insanity. There are no plans and no home of any that are intelligible.” 3



  1. P.G.T. Beauregard; Napoleon in Gray by T. Harry Williams. As well as Joseph E. Johnston; A Civil War Biography by Craig L. Symonds. []
  2. Memorandum for a Plan of Campaign, c. October 1, 1861 by Abraham Lincoln. []
  3. General John Pope; A Life for the Nation by Peter Cozzens. []
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Rebels Plot to Invade Union Soil! Lincoln Wants Kentucky by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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