Excerpts from 'September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril'

September 15

September 14, 2012|By DENNIS FRYE

It was a depressing night for General Lee.

Harpers Ferry had not collapsed. The South Mountain gaps could not be held. Trapped in Pleasant Valley was one-fifth of his force. His army remained scattered, separated — and stunned.

Lee had no choice. He must cancel the invasion.

“The day has gone against us,” Lee’s orders read. “This army will go by Sharpsburg and cross the river.”

The Confederate invasion had crumbled. Just 36 hours earlier, Lee postured in Hagerstown, preparing to pounce across the Pennsylvania border. Now he was withdrawing to Virginia, via Sharpsburg, his closest escape route.

What did retreat mean? The previous week, when the invasion commenced, the Confederacy was charged with confidence. The Rebels issued bold proclamations to end the war. Southern peace terms were presented, and would be negotiated in Philadelphia.

Battlefield victories would ensure Democratic domination over Republicans in the fall elections. And Southern triumphs would compel European recognition of the Confederate nation.

Now, momentum had evaporated. Everything had gone wrong. The Confederacy’s opportune moment had collapsed.

During the somber and sullen night march toward Sharpsburg on the 14th-15th — Lee’s first retreat — the Confederate commander stopped the army near the Antietam Creek for a moment of rest.

Then something happened.

A courier arrived from Harpers Ferry, carrying a message from Stonewall Jackson. “Through God’s blessing, the advance, which commenced this evening, has been successful thus far, and I look to Him for complete success tomorrow.”

Good news? Could Jackson’s success salvage the campaign? Did hope remain?

Lee ceased the retreat. He would await word from Jackson near Sharpsburg.

About noon today, Lee learned Jackson had forced the surrender of Harpers Ferry just hours earlier.

Reverse course. Lee ordered Stonewall to join him at Sharpsburg. Pennsylvania was only one day’s march.

Invasion renewed!

Quotes extracted from Dennis E. Frye’s newest book, “September Suspense: Lincoln’s Union in Peril.” Frye’s other recent release is “Harpers Ferry Under Fire: A Border Town during the Civil War.”

The Herald-Mail Articles