Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Invasion that never was

Everybody remembers the Confederate invasions that resulted in the Battles of Gettysburg and Antietam. A handful of others can recall rebel forces under Jubal Early battling at Monocracy and Fort Stevens. However, I doubt that you can find many people who can recall the invasion that never was. This campaign that never occurred will be the focus of todays blog.

As the Army of the Potomac was being trained by Union General George B. McClellan his adversary saw an opportunity to strike. In late September 1861 after the Union defeats at Wilson’s Creek and Bull Run, Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard was planning an offensive. Beauregard wanted to make a sudden trust across the Potomac and divide the Union, east and west, by seizing the trop of territory lying between Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. This would force the Union army to come out from behind its Washington entrenchments and give battle to the men in gray. It was in this location, Beauregard believed, that the decisive battle of the war would take place and total victory for the Confederacy would result. Even the over-confident Beauregard admitted that the odds were long but they were shorter than they would be any time hereafter. It was time to strike while the iron was hot and Beauregard felt that it had to happen as soon as possible. Beauregard believed that if the Confederates remained passive and allowed the North to recover its morale than the war was lost.

His conference to discuss this plan with Confederate President Jefferson Davis occurred on October 1, 1861 in Fairfax, Virginia. His co-general, Joseph E. Johnston nodded with approval as Beauregard hammered out his plan to Davis. Their only disagreement came when Johnston felt that 60,000 men would be needed to accomplish Beauregard’s plan. The Cerole felt differently and told Davis that only 50,000 men would be needed for his invasion plans. Davis was faced with the problem of finding 10- to 20,000 reinforcements for the invasion.

Manpower wasn’t the only thing that was worrying the Mississippian President. The Federal navy had scored victories at various points on the Confederacy’s coast and it was difficult for Davis to pull men from those areas to satisfy Beauregard’s thirst for invasion. The governor of almost every Confederate state was calling of Davis for reinforcements already and Davis foresaw a backlash to any request that would fatten the Virginian armies. The South was threatened in just about every coastal area and wherever Davis looked, the situation was such that to strip one area to aid another in success could lead to a disaster on the weakened front.

Beauregard, continued to urge his plan on the new President and even went so far to state that desperate men must take desperate chances. Whatever territory was lost could be regained with a decisive victory on northern soil. In the end, Jefferson Davis vetoed Beauregard’s plans and the Creole could only shrug in disappointment. This ended the talk of a fall 1861 offensive and put he Confederates into a dispersed defensive posture.

When I read about this fascinating situation in Shelby Foote’s book I was astounded. I never knew of a planned invasion such as this other than reading once that some rebel generals wanted to attack after Bull Run. If one examines Beauregard’s plans they can see that he was right but they were farfetched. I don’t think that the newly formed Confederate army could have supported such an invasion but I do believe that if they could have the war would have ended differently. Moreover, the Creole was correct in some of his assumptions.

If they didn’t strike soon then the war would be lost. In the end is what exactly occurred. The full weight and restored morale of the Federals clamped down on the Confederacy during the campaigns of Donelson, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta and so forth. In the end we will never know if Beauregard was correct in his belief that an 1861 invasion was the best chance for the Southern cause. I guess it is easy to examine this thru the lens of the wars final result that we are all aware of.

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a Narrative. Volume 1., New York: Random House, 1958.

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