During the Civil War, Washington DC spent many of those years under some level of threat from the Confederates. The main reason for that was many of the engagements in Northern Virginia often took place only a day’s march from the city. Until the final stages of the war, Lincoln’s war strategy always had to consider the Confederate threat to Washington, and it was very real, especially early in the war.
One problem for Lincoln was the Shenandoah Valley to the west. The mouth of the valley at Harper’s Ferry was actually above Washington (to the Northwest) and only about 50 miles away. That meant any army emerging from the Shenandoah would be above Washington and, thus, an immediate threat to the city. Lee used this exact tactic no less than four times.
The first was Jackson’s Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862, in which the Louisiana Tigers, then led by Richard Taylor, played a major role. When Jackson took Winchester (in the Valley) and threatened Harper’s Ferry, Lincoln was forced to abandon his attacks on Richmond to defend his own capitol.
The second was later that year in September, when Lee invaded Maryland that ended at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). Technically, he did not use the Valley except for resupply.
The third was the following July when Lee did it again and went all the way to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania (almost due north of Washington).
The fourth was in 1864 when Early’s Corps drove the Federals from the Valley, briefly ending their scorched-earth policy of burning out the “breadbasket of Virginia.” He got close enough to present a “threat” to Washington with artillery bombardment of some of its defenses. He was, of course, incapable of actually taking Washington, thus the quotation marks, but it threw the city into a brief panic. The Louisiana Tigers were part of Early’s Corps then, but a shadow of their former selves due to casualties over the previous three years.
Like most cities near the front in wartime, it was full of uniformed men going about the deadly business of managing a war. Washington was a city that seemed always under threat, and thus its citizens must have spent much of the war concerned about that. But life did go on, even during wartime.
Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 27 – Friends and Lies
From Rachel’s Diary
25 December 1864
Last night was Christmas Eve, and while there was little joy in my heart, I decided I needed to at least go through the motions.
Taylor asked me to a party at a hotel near the Capitol. I was expecting it to be interesting enough to improve my frame of mind, and perhaps I could be shed of the melancholy mood I was in. He arrived early, splendidly dressed in a finely tailored uniform. I had a new gown made for the occasion in the hope it would help cheer me up.
As I was making my last minute preparations in the hall mirror with Taylor waiting impatiently nearby, grinning as if he knew some secret, he finally blurted out, “Is this going to take all night? You look even more beautiful than I have ever seen you look.”
I smiled at him. “Thank you for the lovely compliment.” I turned to face him. “Very well. I’m ready. Why are you in such a hurry?”
At first he looked down as if embarrassed then back at me. “Because I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh, Taylor, what have you done? There is a war going on.”
He stepped closer and dropped to one knee. I gasped. “Would the loveliest lady in Washington do me the honor of becoming my bride?” And he produced an opal and diamond ring.
Note: You may have noticed this takes place while Ethan is “hanging” at Fort Delaware.
I have enjoyed as much of this as I can stand! I am ready to go home! I walked nearly four miles today—so far—almost 11,000 steps, and I will have a good walk to dinner tonight that will push that number higher. (All this assumes the iPhone app is even remotely accurate.) And we haven’t gotten lost, at least not yet, and I am not sure I am up to tolerating any aimless wondering tonight.
The Capitol building is under some kind of renovation.
We arrived in Washington just as the Million Man March Anniversary was ending. Maybe you heard of it? (Sarcasm off.) They trashed the place. All around the Capitol is a sea of portable toilets and overflowing trash cans. And, I think our hotel was the HQ? I left my Civil War Trust cap in the room, just in case. Actually, its only purpose is to preserve CW battlefields, but explaining that and American history to some might be more than they can handle, especially when they are shouting “Down with America!”
Today we toured two Smithsonian Museums, the Air and Space version and the American History version. Fun but exhausting. Interesting begins to lose its interest when your back feels like someone is stabbing you with an ice pick. But I gutted it out.
Tomorrow I am going home. Whoo hoo!
Is that a bad attitude?
We are planning to do this again next year, but fewer days and somewhere else. I think everyone is tired.