Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 24, 1863 (Sunday): Lincoln Pushes Meade to Act

Lynchburg (LynchburgMuseum.org)

Washington, October 24, 1863-11. 20 a. m.
Major-General MEADE,
Army of the Potomac:
    The President desires that you will prepare to attack Lee's army, and, at all hazards, make a cavalry raid, to break the railroad at or near Lynchburg, and such other places as may be practicable. The troops making this raid must mainly subsist upon the country. They should be provided with the proper means of destroying railroads, bridges, &c. There are four lines by which to return; first to your army; second, through the Valley of the Shenandoah; third, to Gloucester; fourth, to Norfolk. I send herewith a copy of the President letter, just received.

     H. W. HALLECK,


Washington, October 24, 1863.
Major-General HALLECK:
    Taking all our information together, I think it probable that Ewell's corps has started for East Tennessee by way of Abingdon,marching last Monday, say, from Meade's front directly to the railroad at Charlottesville.
    First, the object of Lee's recent movement against Meade; his destruction of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and subsequent withdrawal, without more motive, not otherwise apparent, would be explained by this hypothesis.
    Secondly, the direct statement of Sharpe's man that Ewell has gone to Tennessee.
    Thirdly, the Irishman's statement that he has not gone through Richmond, and his further statement of an appeal made to the people at Richmond to go and protect their salt, which could only refer to the works near Abingdon.
    Fourthly, Graham's statement from Martinsburg that Imboden is in retreat for Harrisonburg. This last matches with the idea that Lee has retained his cavalry, sending Imboden and perhaps other scraps to join Ewell. Upon this probability what is to be done?
     If you have a plan matured, I have nothing to say. If you have not, then I suggest that with all possible expedition, the Army of the Potomac get ready to attack Lee, and that in the meantime a raid shall, at hazards, break the railroad at or near Lynchburg.

     Yours, truly,
     A. LINCOLN.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 29, Part 2, Pages 375-376.

Ewell was not headed west, as Lincoln supposed, nor was Imboden.  Lincoln was correct in supposing there was an intent to Lee's destroying the Union rail, but it was merely to prevent Meade from making useful movements before winter brought an end to the season of active campaigning.  The protection of the Confederate salt works in Western Virginia were always of critical, but historically overlooked importance.  Meade would, in fact, move on Lee in thirty days, but would accomplish little.  Lynchburg was a strategic railhead, and Lincoln shows foresight in understanding its importance to Confederate war efforts.  But not until 1864 would his purpose be seen through.

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