A Logistician’s View of the War in Virginia

Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs

Abraham Lincoln’s administration did not possess a blueprint about how to fight a war between North and South in the summer of 1861. Indeed, with open armed hostilities between the United States and Confederate States only a few months old, President Lincoln turned to personal counsel from his trusted advisers and generals.

In early July 1861, Lincoln convened his Cabinet as well as Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs and generals Winfield Scott and Joseph K. F. Mansfield. Scott argued that the army of volunteers gathered around Washington City wait and let his Anaconda Plan strangle the Confederacy back into the Union. But Meigs, chief logistician of the growing United States Army, argued in favor of action.

Meigs’ reasons ran deeper than an over-inflated sense of easy victory over the enemy. Recently appointed to his position as the army’s Quartermaster General, Meigs had to consider the cost and feasibility of waging a war as Scott envisioned it. After the meeting adjourned, Meigs recorded his thoughts of waging the war in Virginia rather than over the vast scale of Scott’s plan in his journal:

I did not think that we would ever end this war without beating the rebels, that they had come near us. We were, according to General Scott’s information…stronger than they, better prepared, our troops better contented, better clothed, better fed, better paid, better armed. That here we had the most violent of the rebels near us; it was better to fight them here than to go far into an unhealthy country to fight them, and to fight them far from our supplies, to spend our money among enemies instead of our friends. To make the fight in Virginia was cheaper and better as the case now stood. Let them come here to be beaten.

Historians often get wrapped around the war’s eastern theater, believing that the war naturally had to be won or lost in the 100 mile corridor between Washington City and Richmond. Montgomery Meigs believed that but mentioned nothing about the two capitals. Instead, he only worried about the logistical aspects of fighting in Virginia. His focus on this piece of the war effort was a valuable asset to the United States over the next four years.

4 Responses to A Logistician’s View of the War in Virginia

  1. Meigs paid a high price for his loyalty to the Union. If I am not mistaken, his son was killed in the war. Confederate General Jubal Early burned Meig’s home during the 1864 raid on Washington.

    1. Correct, his son was killed by guerrillas in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. It was an event Meigs never recovered from. Early burned the home of Montgomery Blair, Lincoln’s first Postmaster General, in 1864 in Silver Spring.

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