Jubal Early's Raid on Washington: 1864.  By Benjamin Franklin Cooling.  Baltimore, MD: The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1989.


Jubal Early's raid north of the border in 1864 often receives cursory treatment by historians, and the foregone conclusion reached before an analysis of the campaign can be given was its destined failure.  As Cooling argues, however, the Early raid on Washington was not doomed to be a failure from the start, and that had a few things turned out differently, Early might very well have taken Washington from the inattentive Federals and potentially altered the course of the war.  Cooling's bibliography is packed with scholarly works and primary sources alike, including diaries and official reports, and it is difficult to imagine an angle from which Early's campaign against Washington is not covered.

Cooling opens by asserting that the motivation for the attack on Washington, proposed by Lee, approved by Jefferson Davis and planned and executed by Jubal Early, was to draw some of the pressure away from Richmond by the imposing Army of the Potomac overseen by Ulysses S. Grant, but also to imperil Lincoln's hope of reelection in the fall.  Lee wished to draw away enough forces to possibly open the way for a Confederate counterattack in the Richmond-Petersburg area of operations, and the Federal capital of Washington seemed a ripe target prime for the picking, but would also stymie Lincoln's hope of a second term if Washington fell.

Washington had been plucked bare by the needs of the army elsewhere, and what protected the capital in 1864 was mainly an army of less-able soldiers, invalids, or temporary duty soldiers serving under 100 day contracts.  The formidable garrison of 1862-1863 of 45,000 officers, men, and able artillerists, had since been scavenged by the growing needs of the Army of the Potomac elsewhere.  Grant's campaign against Richmond had been a dashing one, but it had sapped the Army of the Potomac of 50,000 casualties, and the easiest place to find those replacements was the garrison around Washington.

As Early marched north with his 10,000-20,000 men, the number was not known to the Federals, who assumed that Lee would not be able to part with that many men at such a crucial juncture.  Reports of Early attacking a Federal garrison outside of Frederick, Maryland finally alerted the Union hierarchy to the size of the danger.  Washington's fortifications were indeed powerful, but more men would be needed to man the fortifications against an army the size of the one Early commanded.  The existing garrison of 10,000 invalids, artillerists, and "hundred-day-ers" was bolstered by the local Washington militia and Grant quickly moved two corps, the VI and the XIX north to help man the fortifications. 

The arrival of the additional two corps and the local militia added 10,000 men to the garrison, giving Early pause as the attacking and defending forces would be matched.  Even though many of the defenders were not in prime condition, the summer march had sapped Early's forces, and attrition had taken its toll.  Early still opted to attack, however, and attacked Forts Stevens and Totten north of Washington.  Union resistance was too stiff for the weary Confederates, however, and Early withdrew after merely probing the city's defenses.  Federal forces failed to cut off Early's retreat, and Early escaped into northern Virginia.

Early returned west, the way he had come, to the Shenandoah Valley.  Grant, fearing no attack from Lee's bedraggled forces outside Richmond, gave General Philip Sheridan command of all Union forces in the area and tasked him with ensuring that Early could no longer threaten Washington.  Some of Early's command would eventually rejoin Lee's forces around Richmond, but Early himself and the command which remained with him was prevented from doing any further harm by the relentless Sheridan. 

Although the title of the book points toward Early's raid on Washington in 1864, there are a number of underlying themes which continually pop up.  Cooling manages to point out the political instability of the region, the tenuousness of Lincoln's hopes at reelection should Early succeed, Lincoln's unadulterated trust in Grant to do with his army whatever he thought best, and how close the Rebel force really came to taking Washington.  Faster movements, fewer desertions, and a more concentrated force might have carried the day for Early, but his raid, in the end, offered too little and too late for the Confederacy. 


Stephen Edwards                                                                         Texas Christian University


Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, 1864. By Benjamin Franklin Cooling. (Baltimore: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1989).

In the summer of 1864 the army of the Confederate States of America launched its last major offensive of the war.  In an attempt to relieve pressure on the Confederate capital of Richmond, then under siege by Union forces commanded by Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee dispatched Jubal Early with a force of roughly 20,000 men to assault and capture the Union capital of Washington D. C.  These events are recounted in Benjamin Franklin Cooling’s Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, 1864.  Cooling explores the events and personalities that took part in the campaign, a task which brings him to study a number of the war’s most prominent figures, even Union president Abraham Lincoln who personally witnessed the fighting.  Cooling’s work is largely a narrative history of the campaign, but roughly deduces the thesis that had Washington D.C. fallen the results could have been disastrous for the Republican Party in the presidential election of 1864 (especially if Lincoln had been killed while under fire from Confederate forces).

By sending Early north into the Shenandoah Valley towards Washington D.C., Lee hoped to replicate the results of “Stonewall” Jackson’s 1862 campaign which elicited mass confusion in the Union high command when that organization feared Jackson would assault Washington.  The campaign launched two years later proved far less successful for Confederate forces however.  Though Early quickly bypassed the union blocking force to his front and successfully crossed the Potomac and invaded Maryland, Union forces under the command of Lew Wallace managed to slow Early’s turning movement sufficiently to allow for Union reinforcements from Grant’s army to the south.  Once Union forces commanded by Horatio Wright and George Cook arrived in Washington they quickly filled into the elaborate trench works that encircled the nation’s capital.  The culminating battle occurred during July 11 and 12 when Confederate forces launched their assaults on Fort Stevens on the north side of Washington D.C.  Lincoln himself came forward to observe the fighting and came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters, becoming the first and only U.S. President to be directly under enemy fire in time of war.  Union forces quickly repulsed all of the Confederate attacks and forced Early to abandon any hope of capturing the Union capital.  Early soon withdrew and eventually Union forces under Phillip Sheridan pursued him into the Shenandoah Valley forcing Early to defend the Confederate breadbasket of the eastern theatre.  This movement pinned Early’s force to the Valley and denied Lee access to Early’s soldiers at a time when manpower in the Army of Northern Virginia began to reach a critical level.

Cooling’s Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, 1864 is an interesting examination of the events of the summer of 1864 and the last gasp of the Confederacy.  Off all of the events near the war’s end only the capture of Washington D.C. could have embarrassed northern supporters of the war sufficiently to turn the tide in the elections of 1864 and bring the Union to a point where it was willing to settle for a negotiated peace.  As a result studying Early’s raid is critical to understanding the final endgame pursued by Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.  As a result of these issues, Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington is a valuable addition to the historiography of the American Civil War and also to the historiography of war and politics’ interconnected relationship.  Early’s raid on Washington was enacted in the truest ideals of Clausewitz’s ideas that war should always be viewed as an extension of politics.

Joseph Stoltz                                                                                           Texas Christian University



Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington 1864. By Benjamin Franklin Cooling. Baltimore: Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1989.   


In the summer of 1864, Lieutenant General Jubal Early and 20,000 men undertook the most daring Confederate plan of the war—to lay siege to Washington. In his work, Benjamin Cooling asserts that the battles for Monocacy and Fort Stevens overshadowed the bloody campaigns at Antietam, Gettysburg, and Shiloh not in number of dead, but in political-military significance.  He further suggests the loss of the two battles by the South may have signified the last hope for the South at winning the war.(xii)

            Focusing on finishing the war, Grant was plagued at how to both protect the capital and continue to chase Robert E. Lee. Cooling asserts he shelved the security of the city to focus on his main goal—Richmond. At the outset of the campaign Grant removed troops from Washington City to fill the large losses incurred during his command. The city seemed relatively safe so Halleck and Lincoln consented to his request. But soon things were to change.

            Jubal Early represented the antithesis of a Southern gentleman. He disliked authority and was independent by nature. As a profane, harsh, and grizzled man Cooling states Early represented the common folk who also had a stake in the conflict.(10) After some initial successes, Early resurrected the “Army of the Valley.” Besides beating back Hunter’s forces from Lynchburg, Early and his troops chased Federals from the Shenandoah Valley, gaining necessary supplies by raiding supply dumps. Cooling does not pretend to know the true intention of Early’s move on Washington, whether it was merely to draw forces or capture it or if the Point Lookout order was ever given.

            On July 9, 1864 a makeshift Union force under command of General Lew Wallace attempted to arrest Early’s advance just east of Frederick on the Monocacy River. With the help of Rickett’s VI Corp, Wallace and his forces put up a gallant defense, but were eventually outflanked by Confederate General John Gordon’s men. The 14th New Jersey and the 87th Pennsylvania sharpshooters took a heavy toll on southern officers.(73) This side battle at Monocacy had cost Early not only significant time, but also part of his first-line combat strength.(80)

Early’s progress toward Washington was continually slowed by his long luggage trains. Adding to this problem, Early was unable to control his men, especially his cavalry. They continually engaged in pillaging expeditions, causing word of their arrival on the capital to spread. His lackadaisical approach allowed additional reinforcements from the VI Corps to be sent to the capital, followed shortly by the XIX Corps, and gave the citizenry time to significantly prepare. Though the capital seemed threatened, Cooling states Grant “had no feel for the situation, still had no appreciation of Lincoln’s perturbation about the capital’s safety, and had not intention of interrupting his bulldog grip on Richmond-Petersburg.”(87) He further suggests Grant intended the Washington forces to merely repulse the Southern advance rather than annihilate it.

As Early sent out teams to test the defenses, the Union command structure seemed to fall into disarray. Lincoln, Halleck, Stanton, and the other minor commanders were plagued by indecision as to how they should proceed. On July 12, Early made the demonstration that opened the Battle of Fort Stevens. President Lincoln, eager to watch the battle, was fired at while standing along an artillery battery, but not injured. When Early realized the VI Corps had arrived, he withdrew his assault and began toward Maryland. The resulting Union victory came at a high cost.

Early then turned his attention to the Point Lookout scheme. Cooling maintains if nothing more the Confederate raid near Baltimore enabled Union officials to take the necessary precautions to protect that city. After the secret prison break plan emerged, Lee and Davis realized most of the prisoners had been moved to Elmira and called off the scheme. As a result, Early’s men began to recede back across the Potomac. 23,000 Federal troops awaited their arrival at White’s Ford, but were unable to perform the pincher movement that could have destroyed Early’s raiders.

            Though Grant continued to push for the absolute destruction of Early’s forces, the incompetent and ineffective leadership of George Crook and Horatio Wright failed to accomplish this goal. The infamous Chambersburg Raid ordered by Early further infuriated Grant and finally effected the consolidation of command so desperately needed earlier in the war.(223) Finally William Averell caught up with the Confederates and surprised them, effectively destroying Early’s mounted capability. Grant rightly replaced the useless David Hunter with Phillip Sheridan, and the campaign to destroy Early finally began in earnest.

            Though not all will agree with Cooling’s assertion, this well-researched work stands as a testament to his scholarship.


Rob Little

Texas Christian University