Maryland, My Maryland? Jefferson Davis and the Maryland Campaign of September 1862

Confederate soldiers splashing across the Potomac River in early September 1862 jubilantly bellowed out the tune “Maryland, My Maryland” as they marched into the Old Line State. Just months earlier, with the war escalating around the Confederate capital of Richmond, this feat seemed impossible. As the Southern army placed its collective foot on the soil of Maryland, one of the Confederacy’s early war aims was about to be realized.

Recognizing Maryland’s status as a border state caught between North and South, the Confederate Congress issued a series of resolutions on December 8, 1861 about the state’s status and their desire to join it with their fledgling nation. “[I]t is the desire of this government, by appropriate measures, to facilitate the accession of Maryland, with the free consent of her people, to the Confederate States,” the Congress resolved. Confederate successes in the summer of 1862 now made this goal a possibility.

Despite the joyous mood of the Confederate soldiers entering Maryland, Robert E. Lee, commanding those soldiers, remained skeptical that Maryland’s citizens would return the favor in kind. “I do not anticipate any general rising of the people in our behalf,” Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis on September 7. The general sought Davis’ assistance days before, requesting that the President send former Maryland governor and Southern supporting exile Enoch Lowe to rouse Marylanders to the Confederate cause.

Himself excited by Confederate fortunes north of the Potomac River, Davis told Lee to issue a proclamation to the people of Maryland declaring “the motives and purposes of your presence among them at the head of an invading army.” The President then listed out a blueprint of eight resolutions and statements Lee could draw from for the proclamation he ultimately issued on September 8.

Jefferson Davis’ enthusiasm for Confederate advances in the summer of 1862 did not end with the stroke of his pen, however. Seizing on Lee’s request for Enoch Lowe to aid the Confederate effort in Maryland, President Davis decided to accompany Lowe to the Potomac River as far north as Leesburg. Perhaps Davis could join his troops in Maryland next.

A “special train” carrying Davis and Lowe left Richmond on September 7 and made its way to Rapidan Station, where Davis notified Lee of his journey. Davis’ September 7 correspondence with Lee is unfortunately lost to history. Thus, his true intentions in traveling north are unknown. Southern newspapers theorized the purpose of Lowe’s visit, though: “placing Maryland within the political association of the Confederate States.” Correspondents in Richmond could only surmise what the departure of Davis truly meant.

Robert E. Lee also could not divine Davis’ reasons for heading north. Regardless, the general did not believe Maryland was a good place for his commander-in-chief. “While I should feel the greatest satisfaction in having an interview with you,” Lee said, “I cannot but feel great uneasiness for your safety should you undertake to reach me.” The trek would be “very disagreeable,” the general warned. It would also expose Davis to the risk of capture by Federal patrols ranging throughout northern Virginia. Exercising extreme caution in this case, words alone on paper would not do for Lee. To further convince Davis of the dangers plaguing his northern excursion, Lee sent his staffer Walter Taylor to intercept the President before he reached Leesburg.Taylor departed the Confederate camps outside Frederick, Maryland at midday on September 9. That night, he slept at the Harrison home in downtown Leesburg, which served as Lee’s quarters shortly before crossing into Maryland. Walter Taylor reached Warrenton on September 10 and found that his journey was for naught: Davis turned around on September 8, headed back to the Confederate capital.

Enoch Lowe continued his efforts to bring Maryland into the folds of the Confederacy even though Davis no longer traveled with him. It is possible that Walter Taylor met Lowe and the two traveled to Winchester together. From the Shenandoah Valley town, Lowe continued to champion Maryland’s supposed dormant Confederate sympathies. “He said Maryland, long disappointed, had been perfectly taken by surprise on the entrance of our army, and that when it was seen to be no mere raid, 25,000 men would flock to our standard, and a provisional government would be formed,” wrote one eyewitness. The lofty goal of 25,000 Marylanders rising to fight under the Confederate banner never materialized, as Lee predicted. Perhaps as few as 200 men signed up with the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate foray into Maryland failed to fulfill Southern hopes for a fourteenth star on its flag.

Confederate efforts to bring another state under the country’s flag came off on October 4, 1862 in Frankfort, Kentucky but did not amount to much except a great deal of fanfare. Southerners held similar hopes for Maryland, but their dreams fizzled before there was a chance. The Charleston Mercury quickly denounced Davis’ trip north as nothing more than “merely for recreation and to have a quiet talk with the Governor [Lowe]. If Lowe is to be proclaimed Provisional Governor, it is to be hoped the people will rally to him, and our army keep in front of him, otherwise the affair will resemble the Provisional Government of Kentucky, which was rather a farce, tending to alienate rather than encourage the inhabitants.”

Establishing a provisional government in Maryland, it turned out, was the least of the Confederacy’s worries in the Old Line State in September 1862 and the Southern nation’s dreams of enticing more states to its cause and expanding its boundary to the Mason-Dixon Line never came to fruition. Maybe September 1862 represented the best odds for that to happen, or perhaps by then it was a foregone conclusion and Jefferson Davis, Enoch Lowe, and the Confederate Congress were only whistling into the wind.

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2 Responses to Maryland, My Maryland? Jefferson Davis and the Maryland Campaign of September 1862

  1. Robert Rainey says:

    A good read on Maryland during the beginning of the war is a book written by a John Hopkins faculty member, Lawrence Denton and published in 1995. The title is “A Southern Star for Maryland: Maryland and the Secession Crises”. The legislature were clamoring for the Governor to call them into session for the purpose of voting to leave the union. Had the governor done so when called upon, Maryland would have left the union as well. When he did call them into session, it was too late, Maryland had been invaded, habeas corpus suspended, her citizens imprisoned….even a member of Francis Scott Keys family.
    The government our founding fathers gave us was effectively overthrown, being replaced with one that they feared.

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