150 Years Ago This Week: Prelude to an invasion

June/July 1864

As June of 1864 drew to a close, the Union Army of the Potomac laid siege to Petersburg, south of Richmond. Southerners viewed Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s overland campaign a failure, since the Union troops had not captured Richmond or conquered Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army.

On Monday, June 27, in Georgia, the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Tennessee moved forward against Big and Little Kennesaw near Marietta. The Army of the Ohio threatened the left flank of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army. Maj. Gen. William Sherman ordered an all-out assault on the well-entrenched Confederate positions.

All day the soldiers in blue attacked the Southerners in gray to no avail. Union casualties numbered 2,000 killed and wounded, and 52 missing. Gen. Johnston’s troops sustained about 500 casualties. Kennesaw Mountain was a serious defeat for the Union armies, but would not affect Gen. Sherman’s overall objectives against the Confederates.

In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates left Staunton and began moving north, raising some concern in Washington. It was a given fact that any Confederate army moving north in the valley brought them closer to the capital at Washington, while a Union force marching south drew them farther away from Richmond.

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln formally accepted the presidential nomination on June 28. In Richmond, President Jefferson Davis wrote on June 29 to Georgia Governor Joe Brown: “All available reinforcements have been sent to Gen. Johnston, detaching troops even from the points that remain exposed to the enemy.”

On the last day of June, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase tendered his resignation to President Lincoln again. This time the president accepted it. “You and I have reached a point of mutual embarrassment in our official relation which it seems cannot be overcome, or longer sustained consistently with the public service,” read the President’s reply.

Temporarily, Assistant Secretary George Harrison assumed Salmon’s duties. In the Shenandoah Valley, Gen. Early’s troops reached New Market on their march north; Early made his headquarters in the Strayer Hotel.

On Friday, July 1, President Lincoln nominated Sen. William P. Fessenden of Maine to replace Salmon Chase at the Treasury Department. His appointment was immediately confirmed by the Senate; originally planning to serve only temporarily, Secretary Fessenden relied on his extensive experience on the Finance Committee, was opposed to inflation and believed in heavier taxation. In less than a year, he was operating the Treasury Department efficiently and soundly.

The same day, Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell, the Union commander at the Battle of First Manassas in July 1861, was assigned command of the Department of the Pacific, with headquarters at the Presidio at San Francisco.

On July 2, the Federal Congress granted land in the Pacific Northwest for railroad and telegraph lines to Puget Sound in the Washington Territory, and chartered the Northern Pacific Railroad. President Lincoln signed the bill, which also opened land for development from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean.

Gen. Early’s men reached Winchester and had encountered little Union opposition in the Valley as he marched his men north. There was some fighting near Harpers Ferry as the leading elements of Gen. Early’s command drove off the Federals occupying Bolivar Heights, to the south of Harpers Ferry.

The next day, July 3, elements of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s Union troops were driven by the Confederates across the Potomac into Maryland. Fighting took place in West Virginia at Leetown, Darkesville, Martinsburg, North River Mills, and at Buckton, Va. Gen. Early’s success also at Shepherdstown, W. Va., was reported in Washington, and suddenly there was serious concern for the national capital. Was this a raid or a serious invasion?

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.