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.
Texas Christian University