Winter in Virginia – Part 1

Winter arrived, albeit briefly, in the Shenandoah Valley this weekend.  With that in mind, I offer, without commentary, a letter from Franz Sigel to President Abraham Lincoln (courtesy of American Memory from the Library of Congress), which provides one example of what happens when a general officer apparently has nothing to do in the middle of a Virginia winter.  I plan to follow up on this letter in a future post.


Stafford C. H. Va., Jany 17th 1863.

The real point of attack.

It is a matter of grave consideration why the Army of the Potomac in spite of its strength and organization, and the valor of its troops, has accomplished so little in proportion to the real object in view. Considering all the circumstances more closely, the following must be the result of an impartial investigation.

1st In manuvering from the Potomac against the Army of Richmond we find that all our exertions are counterbalanced and all our expectations are baffled in regard to the inefficiency of the Enemy, because his army — based on the James river — draws its forces and great resources from the whole country South, Southwest, and west of the James river. The immense territory of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, is at the disposition of this army. The different lines of railroads leading off from Richmond as the centre, and which were never seriously interrupted or menaced, transmit all these resources directly to the Grand Army of the East. Besides this, whatever of war material is smuggled from abroad into southern harbors, finds its way by the multifarious lines of railroads to the Army of Richmond.

2d By attacking the Enemy from the north, by the line of either Fredericksburg, Gordonsville, or Stanton, we always, if successful, press the Enemy’s army nearer upon its bases of resources, and enable him to concentrate his forces with more speed and vigor the nearer he comes to the line of the James river.

3d An attack from the Peninsula would not alter these circumstances, because it would not affect the great lines of the resources of the Enemy; but, on the contrary, the Enemy in his defence is so near to his centre, that he can concentrate his forces rapidly and with more vigor the nearer he comes to the line of the James river and throw them against our army in its advance. And even in case of a defeat and a capture of Richmond, he finds his second and third line, and holds his communication with the southern states.

4th A direct attack from Fredericksburg against Richmond has to contend with two great obstacles — the entrenched position behind the Rappahannock, and the line of the James river, of which Richmond is the great centre and the defensive point. Even if we break the enemy’s line on the Rappahannock he will find time enough to make formidable preparations on the James river, where, naturally our operations will be brought to a stand; and the question will be: “shall we take Richmond by a direct attack or shall we transfer our army across James river, and attack Richmond from the South East?” In choosing the first way, which seems to me a hazardous enterprise, we might take Richmond by immense losses, but we will not take the line of the James river. We will only compel the Enemy to make this river his line of defence, and, by a quick movement against Foster, secure his lines of communication with the South. In choosing the other way, namely, by throwing our forces across James river, we, at least, momentarily expose our own lines of communication to an attack of the Enemy against our rear. And, even if we should take Richmond and Petersburgh, the army of the enemy would concentrate his army behind the Meherrin or Rappahannock Roanocke, and continue the war for an indefinite time.

5th The grand object of all our operations in the East should therefore be, to gain the line of the Roanoke by a great invasion of North Carolina, thereby not only seperating the Army of Richmond from their principal and vital resources, but, also compelling the Enemy to face to the South or to evacuate a position, which, to hold, would be an absurdity, as he could not expect to recruit himself from the North.

6th To attain this grand object which can and will never be attained by a diversion like that of Foster,2 (that is by a proportionate small army) the forces in North Carolina should be augmented to fifty eighty or one hundred thousand men. The mere appearance of such an army on the shores of the Roanoke would strike terror into the ranks of our enemies and deliver Richmond into our hands without a struggle.

7th The line of the Rappahannock could be held by sixty or seventy thousand men, and forty thousand could be sent to North Carolina.

8th The advantages resulting from a great invasion and occupation of North Carolina are evident, because such an operation would at once cut off and seperate the army of Richmond from the rebellious states; and as that army is the real defender of those states the moral influence of their seperation would be most effective and powerful. Besides this the war in the east would be transferred to the enemy’s country where not only many resources can be useful to our army, but where there is also a numerous slave population which could be used as a powerful element for our own purposes, and the loss of which to the enemy would greatly weaken & damage him.

9th The seacoast from Wilmington to Norfolk would be our basis of operation, and the different lines of railroads from Beaufort, Wilmington and Norfolk our lines of communication for our army advancing to the Roanoke. To secure our basis and our lines of communication Newbern and Goldsborough should be fortified by intrenchments, and Wilmington as well as Washington (on Pamlico sound) and Plymouth (on Albemarle sound) should be occupied.

10th This plan would not be in contradiction with any operations which may be now in process by the army of the Potomac on the Rappahannock, because the movements of this army would only secure the operations in North-Carolina, as they would detract the attention of the enemy from the real point of attack and compel him to leave a large force in front (North) of Richmond. An advance of the Army of the Potomac could be regarded as a great demonstration to cover our attack on North Carolina.

F. Sigel.

Maj. Gen.

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