Saturday, May 24, 2014

April 16, 1864 (Sunday): March for Washington City

Fort Stevens Washington DC

Charlottesville, Va., April [16?], 1864.
General R. E. LEE,
Commanding, &c,. Orange Court-House:
GENERAL: The troops are coming in very slowly, owing to our very imperfect railroad arrangements. We cannot hope to have the command up before the middle of next week.
It may have a good effect during this delay for me to go to Petersburg and remain. By leaving my horses, &c., with the command I could get back by express train in full time for any emergency. If the enemy learns that I am at Petersburg he will in all probabilty assume that my troops are with me and that is the point at which my corps will rendezvous instead of this.
     If such should be the effect he will move with more caution in that direction and more boldness in this, and we may, by this means, here until we learn that the army at Annapolis has set out on its intended expedition; then, having all things well prepared, I think that we should take up the shortest line of march for Washington City. We will be able to get between the enemy and his capital, and, by pushing on toward it, we will force him to give battle hurriedly in order to save his capital. If he does that we ought to have great reason to hope that we may destroy him and get this capital.
     It seems to me that this will be our safest and best move, whatever may be the service intended for General Burnside's army. If he goes up York River or to Urbanna we would force Meade to fight before Burnside could join him. If he goes to the south side of the James we ought to be able to get Washington before he could get back there.
     I suggested last fall the idea of fortifying Richmond below, so as to hold the river at Drewry's and Chaffin's Bluffs with our vessels and about 10,000 men. In the course of the summer's campaign it may become necessary to use all of the rest of your troops in such a manner as to leave Richmond exposed. If it should so turn out, and the enemy should get there and get possession of the river, he will hold it for the balance of the war; but if we can even hold the position on the river we will be able to recover Richmond very readily, even if we should have the bad fortune to lose it temporarily.
      I remain, general, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 33, Part 1, Pages 1286-1287.

Longstreet here joins the number of high ranking Confederates who have begun thinking about the possibility of Richmond being lost for some period of time.  His proposal to take Washington may seem fanciful in light of what was to come, but it was based on the Union having moved many of the defenders in the Washington defenses to the front.  Richmond was vulnerable but so was Washington.

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