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What if Washington fell?

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  • What if Washington fell?

    From the August issue of Civil War Times:

    If Jubal Early had been successful in capturing Washington, D.C., in July 1864, what effect do you think it would have had on the war?

    Check out the article....At Washington's Gates: Jubal Early's Chance to Take the Capitol

  • #2
    Originally posted by ckelly View Post
    From the August issue of Civil War Times:

    If Jubal Early had been successful in capturing Washington, D.C., in July 1864, what effect do you think it would have had on the war?

    Check out the article....At Washington's Gates: Jubal Early's Chance to Take the Capitol
    A lot of the folks who say it "could" have been taken are Monday Morning quarterbacking the situation. As Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur said, they were "behind the strongest built works I ever saw". Early had NO way of knowing exactly how many troops were behind those fortifications, even if he suspected them of being lighted defended. Sticking his army into that would have been the equivalent of a bear sticking its nose into a hornet's nest. Worse for him, the Union navy was sitting at the piers & could have inflicted great slaughter on any troops that approached. Lincoln would have been evacuated along with most of the cabinet & Congress I imagine, so that would have been an empty promise to take him. I think that taking Washington would have lost the war for the South quicker because the Early would have taken a lot of damage taking the capital & certainly couldn't have kept it. His force might have been completely overwhelmed & actually cut-off if the Union forces played their cards right. And losing 10,000 experienced soldiers would have offset any temporary success at the capital that the Confederates could have hoped to achieve.

    Just my 2 cents.
    The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.


    • #3
      Originally posted by ckelly View Post
      If Jubal Early had been successful in capturing Washington, D.C., in July 1864, what effect do you think it would have had on the war?
      Thanks much for the article link. Very interesting, but I think Early who seems to have been a competent chap- certainly well trusted by Lee- made the right decisions and I wouldn't want to second guess him.

      As to the Q- IMO it would have made some difference perhaps to duration but I don't think to eventual outcome. By 1864 (political) positions were pretty entrenched and Lincoln would have just run the cause to conclusion from some other location.
      Tactics are based on Weapons... Strategy on Movement... and Movement on Supply.
      (J. F. C. Fuller 1878-1966)


      • #4
        Early would have wrecked his forces by attacking, and that would have shortened the war. Once Early is effectively crippled, then Grant can pull VI Corps back to AoP or send it virtually unopposed through the Shenandoah and destroy the valley as a supply center for Lee. if Lee detaches more troops to defend the valley, then Grant has it all the easier (not easy) at Richmond/Petersburg.


        • #5
          Eassssy, down boys! You seem to be dipping a little deeper into the what if, what if, really really what ifs. Union Navy sitting off the piers? Grant's IV corps turning on the Shenadoah after Early was destroyed?
          Love the enthusiasm, really do. But its a little more out there than my imagination can follow.
          I will share my observation on the what if of this thread following these replies:

          Despite what appeared to be a great anaconda snake gripping every Southern sea shore from Norfolk to New Orleans (The Federal navy failed to blockade the valiant "horse marines," and, "cotton clads," of the Texas coast) the Federal navy was not as robust as we now imagine. Could there have been a fleet of Federal war ships waiting just off the mouth of the Potomac river following a successful invasion of Washington by Early? We don't know. To say there would have been Federal gunboats waiting in the waters outside of Washington is speculation beyond speculation. Even if there had been, Early's men would have sheltered themselves from any bombarment either in civilian homes or in the ring forts themselves.

          As for Lincoln and his congress escaping in time? Despite having almost a week's warning that Early was moving towards Washington, very few of the city's officials actually left. In fact, as all us arm chair generals know, Lincoln observed some of the battle of Fort Stevens close enough to see for himself what Early's Confederates thought about his will to conquer them.
          If the Confederates had a breakthrough that day, Lincoln would have been rooted out from some spider-hole in Washington in a matter of time.

          Even if Lincoln did attempt to escape within hours or days ahead of Early's columns, where would he have gone? Early's men was attacking from the North. His cavalry was to the West. Following the capture of Washington, Early planned to free Confederate POWs to the east of Washington. Lincoln's only escape route would have been south...into Confederate Virginia!

          As for the IV being let loose in the Shenadoah Valley if Early had suffered a real defeat, who knows? There are no written or known estimations on what the Union IV would have done. Their only mission was to defend Washington against Early. Once that mission was complete, I can't imagine Grant would allow it to waltz across Virginia as an independent army. He had plans for the IV Petersburg.

          Now for my personal views:
          Could Early have invaded Washington, DC?
          Yes, he could have. His veterans who had sent the veteran troops of the Army of the Potomac on helter skelter races for safety from the first battle of Manassas to the battle of Cold Harbor would have easily swept aside Lincoln's, "counter jumpers."

          Why didn't he invade Washington?
          Early was late. Though his men were the Confederacy's elite, their commander was no Jackson or Lee. Early slowly approached Washington, lightly knocked on the door of one of its many gates and withdrew without so much as peeping in.

          Even after two of Grant's corps fed into the defenses around Washington, Lee or Jackson would have moved their Confederates by a sweeping forced march around one flank or another, constantly testing every inch around the city until they found a soft spot. How can I be sure of this? Lee and Jackson ALWAYS did this. The reason the Confederates did not take Washington was because of Early.

          What would have happened if the Confederates did take Washington?
          With respect to former invasions by Confederate troops into enemy territory, there would have been no burning of public or private establishments. Except for the case of the burning of Chambersburg, PA, the Confederates held a strict policy against burning or destroying spots taken.
          For sure though, Lincoln would have been captured. We have no way of knowing how the Confederates would have used the capture of Lincoln, his staff, his cabinet, and most of the US Congress and Senate for their cause.
          What we can be sure of though is that there would have been no firing squads against any of them. Neither the Confederate government or military had ever shown any evidence of deadly malice against the United States state leaders. I imagine Early would have shown a great amount of chivalry and respect towards Lincoln and the others considering 50% of a conflict is diplomacy.

          Could this of ended the war?
          In either the short or long run, yes. In the short run, the capture of the entire United States government, treasurer, Hallick, administration, and nerve center could have forced what remained of the United States infrastructure to throw in the towel.
          I do not believe Washington could have been held indefinitely by Early's men. His ten thousand soldiers would not have been able to man all the defenses. And if he did capture the city, most certainly Grant would unleash his whole army to liberate the capital; putting Lee on the shelf for the time being.
          However, even if the Confederates did evacuate the capital, they would have taken with them all the heads of state and military personnel. Early's men would have left nothing behind but an empty white house and unfinished capital building.
          With Lincoln out of the war, the South served a very good chance of winning in the long run even after Washington was liberated and Early's men back in Virginia.

          You might ask, why did we not loose the war of 1812 after the British invaded Washington? Well, when the British took Washington, there was little but buildings to take. The government including president Monroe had escaped.
          Lincoln, on the other hand, gambled to stay in Washington even as ten thousand Confederates swarmed at the gates. As I noted earlier, where was he to escape anyway?
          Even if Monroe had been captured by the British, it is easy to imagine that the Americans would have continue their fight all the same. America was different then. It's might was derived from all over the land, from powerful sovereign states. Yet, by 1864 (and continues today) the heart and soul of the United States and it's will to carry on a war rested not only on the very central cell of Washington but on the shoulders of the president. With both Washington, DC and Lincoln out of the picture who would tell the generals, the press, the people, and yes, the Northern states, what to do next?
          So much of the Northern war machine and will depended on Lincoln. He ordered his generals to continue their invasion of the South when most of the North was ready to call it quits. If Lincoln and his government was captured what would have stopped a peace government from ordering the generals to give up the fight? Certainly the peace parties would have all the reason to take over the Northern government following the kidnapping of the old.

          So: Early could have taken Washington, but he couldn't because he was neither Lee or Jackson.
          No Confederate force of that size would have been able to continue to hold Washington for very long, yet with the capture of the state leaders and military brass within the city, a Confederate evacuation would have little effect.
          If Early did take Washington the war would have either ended in the South's favor soon after or not long after.
          Short run-The panic in the North, the total collapse of all Grant's plans in the East, and replacement of a peace government in the North following the capture of the Lincoln government. For there is no evidence that any other leader in the North would have been able to fill Lincoln's shoes.
          Long run-The 1864 elections in the North would have come and past without Lincoln. Even if the capture of Washington would have been short lived, it would appear to the world a very large victory considering the captures of Lincoln and his government who failed to evacuate before Early was at the gates.
          The capture of Washington would have also replenished Southern morale causing increases in recruiting and will to up their struggle.

          None of this happened. Why didn't Lincoln try to escape from Washington before July 11, 1864? Perhaps because he looked over the city wall's edge and sighed continently, "General Early? whew, its only you."


          • #6
            First of all, it's VI Corps, not IV Corps.
            Second, if Early launched a major attack, Lincoln could have gone east if the calvary was in the west, and with VI Corps arriving,
            Early a) has to break the capital defenses, and then b) defeat VI Corps and c) still have enough men left to make the occupation stick. A burn and run, a la 1812 would have about the same effect as taking the capital did in 1812.

            Early did not have enough men to take out the forts and VI Corps and hold D.C. He didn't have enough men to do two of the three.
            And that is the point, what does he do with his weakened forcers, and what do the Yankees do afterwards?

            You say Early was late, you're not looking at how an army moves in real time. Monocacy cost Early a day, and that day counted. (Jackson was late taking Harper's Ferry in 1862, and started the Chancellorsville attack so late he couldn't finish the job before dark so a Jackson what if on this what if doesn't hold up). Also, sweeping aside VI corps wasn't easy--as Early found out later on at Cedar Creek and other battles. Taking out VI Corps wouldn't be any easier in the streets of D.C.


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