Lee’s Bold Plan for Point Lookout: The Rescue of Confederate Prisoners That Never Happened

 by Jack E. Schairer, McFarland Publishers

While Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces began the Siege of Petersburg in June 1864, General Robert E. Lee un veiled an audacious campaign of his own, dispatching Jubal A. Early to relieve Lynchburg and if possible move on Washington. Lee hoped to keep open his tenuous supply lines and distract Grant in the process. He also gave Early a secondary goal: Liberate the prison at Point Lookout, Maryland, where 12,000 Confederates were reportedly guarded by only a garrison of white and “colored” Union regiments.

Jack E. Schairer outlines the Confederate government’s expectations and then tracks Early’s maneuvers, from his victories at Lynch burg and Monocacy, Md., to his arrival before Washington’s Fort Stevens on July 11.

Schairer attributes Early’s ultimate failure to delays resulting from his own hesitation, hot weather and a lack of supplies that gave the Rebel troops an excuse for looting. His critique of Early is somewhat unfair, since Lee had instructed him to “threaten Washington” rather than capture it outright. Early probably understood that even if he could penetrate the forts protecting the Union capital, his force was insufficient to move on to Point Lookout. However, Brig. Gen. Bradley T. Johnson’s and Major Harry W. Gilmor’s concurrent raids around Baltimore were among the most spectacular of the war. This suggests Early might have had a better chance if his Army of the Valley had emulated its cavalry and bypassed Washington to take Baltimore and Point Lookout instead.

 

Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here