General Lee's Wooing
DESCRIPTION: "My Maryland, my Maryland, I bring thee presents fine, A dazzling sword with jewelled hilt...." (The Confederates "woo" the border state, but the end is bloody): "My Maryland, my Maryland, alas the ruthless day... Proud gentlemen... whose bones lie stark"
KEYWORDS: Civilwar battle death derivative
Sept 17, 1862 - Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg). Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland meets a bloody check at the hands of McClellan
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Scott-BoA, pp. 233-235, "General Lee's Wooing" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "O Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree)" (tune) and references there
cf. "The Battle of Antietam Creek" (subject)
NOTES [941 words]: The Confederates always wanted Maryland to secede from the Union and join them. Local sentiment in the state probably did not favor them, however (outside a few rebellious hot spots such as Baltimore), and in any case the federal government could hardly allow the secession of the state in which Washington was located. In the early days of the rebellion, urgent steps were taken to keep Maryland in the Union, including having soldiers fire on a secessionist rabble in Baltimore (Catton, pp. 345-346) and exerting strongarm tactics on secessionists -- including those in the state legislature (Catton, pp. 354-357). Mere suspicion of rebel sympathies could be grounds for arrest (Catton, p. 358)
As a result, if Maryland was to join the "Southrons," the South had to pursue a forceful "wooing." In 1862, having won the Seven Days' Battles and Second Bull Run, Robert E. Lee took the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland (Harpers, p. 393). Apart from taking the fight to the enemy, and making an attempt to capture Maryland, it also meant that the southern forces, which had eaten northern Virginia bare, would be able to enjoy some of the fruits of the northern harvests.
The invasion didn't go well. It was hoped that Marylanders would flock to the colors, but few recruits came in (Harpers, p. 393). On September 7, Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis, "I do not anticipate any general rising of the people on our behalf" and conceded that he wouldn't be able to recruit many Marylanders. Best guess is that fewer than 200 men joined the colors. (Sears, p. 85).
That certainly wasn't enough to make up for losses along the way. Many of his Lee's own soldiers refused to cross the Potomac; more were debilitated by lack of shoes or a diet of green corn which disagreed with their stomachs -- a side effect of the poor logistics Lee suffered from (McPherson, p. 100). It is estimated that 20-25% of Lee's troops fell by the wayside, leaving him with only about 40,000 effectives. Add the fact that Union General George McClellan captured a copy of Lee's orders (Boatner, p. 17), and it was almost a miracle that the Confederate commander was able to assemble his army at Sharpsburg to fight McClellan.
McClellan had at least a two to one edge on Lee -- he had six full corps, meaning probably at least 90,000 men, at his disposal. And yet, as McPherson observes on p. 100, he never put more than 20,000 into action at any given time, and at least 20,000 were never engaged at all -- a failure which that allowed the Confederates to survive the battle fought around Antietam Creek, if just barely.
The Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg was hardly a victory for anyone. It produced the highest casualties of any single day of battle in the war (Boatner, p. 21). By the time it was over, every regiment in Lee's army was worn out, and he may have had fewer than 25,000 effective soldiers left. McClellan still had unused troops, but he refused to commit them; his losses had also been immense. Murfin, p. 375, gives McClellan's losses at Antietam as 12,469, with another 2700 lost in preliminary skirmishes at South Mountain and Shepherdstown (this apart from some 12,000 captured by the Confederates at Harper's Ferry). Confederate records are never as reliable about such things, and are even worse than usual for Antietam, but Murfin, p. 377, estimates Lee's losses in the Maryland campaign as 10,292 -- out of probably not more than 40,000 who went north into Maryland. Boatner quotes even more extreme numbers from Livermore: 12,410 Federals, 13,724 Confederates. (The latter number, I must say, seems high; I suspect it includes men who did not cross the Potomac but came back to the colors after Lee went south.)
After the battle, Lee headed back across the Potomac. The wooing of Maryland was over. According to Scott, an unknown Union soldier wrote this song to commemorate the fiasco.
The Confederates had learned a lesson. Lee would invade the North again, leading ultimately to the Battle of Gettysburg, but that was not an attempt to bring in recruits or occupy northern territory; he was just trying to take the pressure off Virginia and try to defeat the Federals. Murfin, pp. 302-305, notes how, after Antietam, southerners would curse any band which played "Maryland, My Maryland," which until then had been regarded as an invitation for Marylanders to join the southern cause.
Amazingly, even some of the southern papers got the idea; Murfin, p. 307, cites this from the Petersburg Express: "We think that General Lee has very wisely withdrawn his army from Maryland, the co-operation of whose people in his plans and purposes was indispensable for success. They have failed to respond to his noble appeal, and the victories (sic.) of Sharpsburg and Boonsborough, South Mountain, purchased with the torrents of blood, have been rendered improfitable in a material point of view."
Despite Northern failure to finish off the battle, the outcome indirectly led to the South losing the war, since Lee's retreat ended, at least for the time, the possibility of foreign intervention. The one good result of Antietam was that it was enough of a Union victory -- barely -- to allow Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. And that ended the possibility of intervention for all time. As Murfin writes on p. 311, "In a few strokes of the pen, with this thin thread of 'victory' at Sharpsburg as his guide, Lincoln changed the Civil War from a war of economics and politics to a war for the abolition of slavery, and automatically made Lee's Maryland campaign and the Battle of Antietam one of the most decisive of the war." - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Catton: Bruce Catton, The Coming Fury (being the first volume of The Centennial History of the Civil War, Doubleday, 1961 (I use the 1976 Pocket Books paperback edition)
- Harpers: Alfred H. Guernsey and Henry M. Alden, Harper's Pictorial History of the Great Rebellion in the United States, 1866 (I use the facsimile published by The Fairfax Press as Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War; this is undated but was printed in the late Twentieth Century)
- McPherson: James M. McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam: The Battle that Changed the Course of the Civil War, Oxford, 2002
- Murfin: James B. Murfin, The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862, 1965 (I use the 1985 Louisiana State University Press edition)
- Sears: Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Ticknor & Fields, 1983
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2020 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.