Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 28, 1862 (Friday): Grand Strategy

General J. G. Barnard (Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON, November 28, 1862.
Colonel J. C. KELTON,
Assistant Adjutant-General:
COLONEL: I herewith transmit a paper,* prepared by Colonel Alexander, respecting the route of approach to Richmond and the construction of roads. I concur with him mainly. I concur in the inadequacy of the single-track railroad from Fredericksburg to Richmond, and I believe the exposure to flank attack will make the communication still more inadequate. This statement of Colonel Alexander, and the experience so far acquired, show the difficulty of moving and feeding an army of adequate numbers to fight the concentrated rebel armies, and to besiege Richmond over any one route. It shows that by whatever route we approach we expose Washington; that we require, to make a sure thing, enormous superiority of numbers in Virginia; that, all things considered, the James River is probably better than any other single line of approach; that it is difficult to handle and feed an army sufficiently large on any one route. I suggest, with diffidence, that the quickest results may be obtained from-while prosecuting with the utmost vigor the attack by the Rappahannock, and thus fixing near that river the bulk of the enemy's forces-throwing an army of, say, 50,000 men upon the south side of the James, at Port Walthall,or somewhere in that vicinity. This force could seize all the routes by which Richmond communicates with the South, and control the navigation of the canal; would have Richmond under its cannon, even if it should fail to force the passage of the river and seize the city itself, and it could not
itself be assailed, except by forcing the passage of the James above Richmond. The rebels would necessarily fall back from the Rappahannock, and thus expose their only remaining route of communication with the Confederacy, that by Gordonsville-Virginia Central Railroad. The magazines and arsenals and foundries of Richmond would be destroyed, and the rebel army would speedily be without supplies of any kind. The plan has the advantage of bringing the Navy into co-operation.
    I am, very respectfully, your most obedient,

    J. G. BARNARD,
*See p.1117.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 21, Part 1, Page 808.

The war was at a crucial juncture.  The campaigns of Antietam and Perryville had been repulsed and the border states of Maryland and Kentucky were firmly within Union command.  New Orleans was in the hands of the Federals as well as much of the Atlantic Coast.  Lee was concerned with the very option Barnard speaks of, which would have brought a force up the James while Burnside's main body fixed Lee along the Rappahanock or North Anna.  But at this critical juncture the administration not only focused all its force in an overland campaign to Richmond, but also sent 20,000 troops with Banks to New Orleans.  Lincoln seems to have given more thought to Republican demands than practicalities and Halleck acquiesed when he should have been bolder in offering his opinions. 

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