In 1861, the Army of North Virginia seized the armoury at Harper's Ferry, pausing only briefly to pay respects at the graveside of Robert E. Lee, the late Brevet Colonel of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Had murderous abolitionist John Brown not shot him dead during the infamous raid two years before, Lee himself might well have been in command the Confederate Forces, leading a conventional invasion of the North in his own audacious style.
Unrelenting WarFortunately for the Southern States, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (pictured) was in charge, a uniquely gifted officer who did not believe that the heroic acceptance of battlefield casaulties would force a decision. Instead, Jackson's strategy of "Unrelenting War" was to bypass Union armies and strike at Northern weaknesses, its undefended factories, farms and railroads. His genius was to realise that the Confederacy, with only a third of the population, and eleventh percent of the national infrastructure, needed to fight an unconventional war if it was to prevail, by breaking the back of Northern morale.
"to [make the North] understand what it will cost them to hold the South in the Union at the bayonet's point"CSA President Jefferson Davis preferred a defensive approach, foolishly believing that Great Britain or France would intervene to guarantee the supply of cotton for their mills. However the European Nations were carrying heavy stocks of cotton, and he had been forced to reconsider Jackson's assertion that the North might be forced "to understand what it will cost them to hold the South in the Union at the bayonet's point". That difference of opinion had cost Davis the Southern leadership, and his successor, Albert Sidney Johnson authorised the new policy of "unrelenting war".
And so the Army of North Virginia headed north, intent on seizing the major rail-heads at Baltimore and Philadelphia. Such an assault was of great surprise to US President Abraham Lincoln, whose chief fear was that Jackson would seize Washington. By deploying his forces to protect the capitol, he unwillingly allowed Jackson to strike at the North's supply and communications.