In 1861, on this day fifty-three year old Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia accepted responsibility for the defense of Washington D.C. (and a promotion to the rank of Major-Rank) just twenty-four hours after his native state of Virginia narrowly voted against the motion to secede from the Union.
Major-General Robert E. LeeBut almost immediately, frustration replaced the sharp sense of relief that secession had been limited to the Deep South States.
Commander-in-Chief Winfield Scott had formulated the "Anaconda Plan" which centred on a land-based advance contingent upon either the belligerence or acquiesence of the Dixie Border States. In the event neither of these two conditions were met. Instead, declarations of neutrality from Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky created a buffer state on the Eastern theatre.
To confuse matters further, the "conditional" Unionists who voted down secession had done so in the conviction that the Union would not pursue a policy of coercion. In fact there were two major blockers to coercion, being the 90 day troop policy and the impossibility of attacking Dixie with five states in the way. Nevertheless, President Lincoln was pressing hard for action, and an aggressive new strategy was quickly devised - for the US Navy to transport Union Forces by sea for an amphibious landing at Savannah.
Due to his iconic role in leading the US Marines at the Harpers Ferry Raid, both Lincoln and Scott naturally selected Lee for this mission, even though he had been privately hoping to see out the war in the barracks and avoid any conflict between loyalty and duty. Mistaking Lee's relucantance for timidity, Scott compounded the error by barking "I have no place in my army for equivocal men!"...