VIDEO: Dennis Frye – What was the Union’s Strategy at the Beginning of the Civil War? TRT: 4:35.
Keep in mind that at the outset of the war, Virginia is the easy target for United States forces. This is the place where again with Maryland remaining in the union and Virginia now the confederacy, the confederate states of america – union troops can can come together in Maryland, can stage in Maryland, and then launch invasions from Maryland into Virginia into the confederacy. Now remember,early in the war there’s an expectation, especially in the north, that this is going to be a short war. This isn’t going to last very long. Remember that, when President Lincoln issues his initial proclamation requesting troops, he only asked for troops for 90 days because we’re going to finish this war in the 90 days. It’s going to be over, and so it becomes very evident that if it’s going to be a short war, that is going to occur in close proximity to Washington and that the closest enemy territory to Washington and the north – Maryland – is the state of Virginia. So this becomes the focus of union strategy. Now basically Winfield Scott, the union commander, develops a two-prong advance. He is going to have one force concentrate around Washington, drilling there, preparing there. All its logistics and operations there will move against Manassas Junction. You’ll recall that Robert E. Lee has a blockading force under general P.G.T. Beauregard, holding the very strategic railroad junction at Manassas, a little more than 30 miles from Washington. So, one union force will concentrate against Manassas – the second union force will concentrate against Harper’s Ferry. Then again, Lee had placed troops at Harpers Ferry, commanded by Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson. So these are going to be the two points of contact – the two points, probably – of battle, initial fighting between the north and the south. Manassas and Harper’s Ferry: that’s what General Scott has in mind. So, to make this advance against the Harper’s Ferry and Shenandoah valley area, he selects a veteran General Robert Patterson. Now Patterson is almost 70 years old, a native of Pennsylvania. He’ll be commanding mainly Pennsylvania troops, who are responding to this 90-day call to come squash the rebellion in the south in Virginia. So Patterson’s army is formed ultimately nearly 20,000 men, 20,000 gather in Patterson’s army and come to Hagerstown, Maryland. Hagerstown will be the launch pad for this advance into Virginia. Now it’s not going to be a direct advance upon Harper’s Ferry. What they hope to do is be able to flank the confederates out of Harper’s Ferry to move in such a way that they could either get behind them or encircle them by coming in from the north near Williamsport, Maryland, coming into the Shenandoah valley via the Valley Pike to Martinsburg, Virginia, (today West Virginia), and then moving from Martinsburg in various ways toward Harper’s Ferry where, ultimately, the battle will occur. So Patterson has very little time to make this happen. He’s got inexperienced troops. These are militiamen who have been farmers and shoemakers and laborers in the fields and businesses and manufacturers of Pennsylvania. Ultimately, an organization arrives from Massachusetts, the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, which is often known as the Harvard regiment. This was a three-year regiment. They actually enlisted for three years, not 90 days and Patterson even has a few of the regular army with him when he initiates his campaign. So, middle of June, arriving and concentrating around Hagerstown by first week of July he is preparing to move against the confederates in the Shenandoah Valley. But something has happened: the confederates retreat suddenly from Harper’s Ferry and the campaign plans change for Patterson, General Scottcott and the Shenandoah Valley operation.