The South ‘Transfers the Seat of War’ to the North

September 7, 1862 (Sunday)

Jefferson Davis

To win the war, all the Confederate States had to do was simply not lose. They didn’t have to defeat the foe or drive them from their soil. All they really had to do was outlast the Northern public’s thirst for war. Most certainly, they didn’t have to invade the North. However, such a move could come in quite handy.

Such a move could also stir up controversy. The South’s rallying cry was one to defend their hearths and firesides from the Yankee aggressors. By crossing over into states still officially loyal to the Union, things became less clear.

To shed some illumination and certainty over the situation, Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to each of his invading commanders. Generals Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith were each to issue proclamations to the people of Maryland or Kentucky, depending.

Confederate peace commissioners sent by the CSA in 1861.

Davis was very specific about what needed to be said. First, he wanted to make sure that the people understood that the Confederacy was not in the business of conquest. He reminded them that the South had sued for peace before the war even started. But now, at a time when no peace seemed available, “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; that our fields have been laid waste, our people killed, many homes made desolate, and that rapine and murder have ravaged our frontiers; that the sacred right of self-defense demands that, if such a war is to continue, its consequences shall fall on those who persist in their refusal to make peace.”

If the people of Maryland and Tennessee, and any other states the Southern Armies might march into, did not want Confederate soldiers occupying their towns, it was up to them to convince their Federal government to allow the South to peacefully secede. If their cries to Washington fell upon deaf ears, they were to turn to their states. Their state governments, wrote Davis, “can secure immunity from the desolating effects of warfare on the soil of the State by a separate treaty of peace, which this Government will ever be ready to conclude on the most just and liberal basis.”1


Lee’s Plans for the Invasion Revealed!

Things seemed bright on this Sabbath for the invading armies. General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was resting in Frederick, Maryland, along the Monocacy River, forty miles northwest of Washington. Lee, suffering from an injury to both of his wrists, kept mostly to his tent. Stonewall Jackson, having been thrown from a surrogate horse, had been similarly confined, with the exception of a local church service; its sermon delivered by a Unionist pastor. Jackson slept through most of it.

As some of his cavalry guarded the roads leading south from Frederick, Jeb Stuart held a grand ball at Urbana, a few miles closer to Washington. It was thrown in an all-female academy, hosted by a clutch of gasping and swooning girls. In the middle of the festivities, Yankee cavalry, as if on cue, attacked nearby. Stuart and his men dashed away, slashing and charging their way through the imaginations of the academy’s damsels, until they returned – some bloody, others wounded, but all as chivalrous knights of old. Stuart was in his absolute glory.2

But all was not bravado and rest. Lee was planning something big, and he turned to Generals John G. Walker and Stonewall Jackson. To Walker, who was the last to cross the Potomac with his division, Lee had an interesting assignment.

The second Rockville Bridge at Harrisburg. The first was wooden, this is iron. Later, it was made of stone and is still in use today.

Lee thought that his line of communications was too close to the Federal army. He wanted it to run down the Shenandoah and then to Richmond, rather than through Manassas. To accomplish this, he wanted Walker to return to the other side of the Potomac and cut the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal at the mouth of the Monocacy River. When that was accomplished, Walker would then cooperate with Jackson’s move against Harpers Ferry, to the north. While Walker was doing all of this, Lee planned to move on Hagerstown, obliterating the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and basing his operations from there.

In ten day’s time, hoped Lee, his army would be in a position to move farther north, striking a blow at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Specifically, Lee wanted to destroy the Rockville Bridge, a long wooden bridge spanning the Susquehanna River, five miles north of the city. After Harrisburg fell, he could turn his attention to Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington.3


Buell Moves North, Bragg Follows

As for Generals Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith in the West, things were proceeding in a like fashion. Both Bragg’s and Smiths’ forces had their rest at Sparta, Tennessee and Lexington, Kentucky, but now it was time to move.

Countering Bragg was General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which had fallen back towards Nashville. On this date, Bragg learned that Buell was moving north towards Bowling Green, Kentucky – the very same place Bragg was heading. If only he hadn’t rested so long at Sparta!

Nevertheless, Bragg immediately changed his destination to Glasgow, east of Bowling Green. He would cross the Cumberland River at Carthage in two days. Whomever arrived first, Buell or Bragg, would control the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. If the Federals were first to arrive, they would cut off Bragg’s army from Kirby Smith. Buell could then fall upon each in turn.

Kirby Smith was still in Lexington, skirmishing here and there with elements of hastily thrown together Federal forces. Mostly, he was setting Louisville and Cincinnati to panic, while waiting for Bragg’s forces to join him.4

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 2, p598-599. []
  2. Landscape Turned Red by Stephen W. Sears, Mariner Books, 1983. []
  3. “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. []
  4. Army of the Heartland by Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Louisiana State University, 1967. []
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The South ‘Transfers the Seat of War’ to the North by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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