Robert E. Lee knew the moment was opportune.
“I propose to enter Pennsylvania.”
Lee’s proposition to President Jefferson Davis was dramatic. This had not been attempted, nor seriously considered. Could an invasion into the North achieve southern independence?
Lee was aware, through his daily reading of northern newspapers, of the precarious situation of the Lincoln administration. He knew about the chaos in the Union army. He knew the Republicans were under assault for incompetence and mismanagement of the war. He sensed Lincoln’s party was nearing political implosion. Now was the time to strike.
With congressional elections only weeks away, every day the Confederates trespassed on northern soil could produce votes against Republicans. If invasion could hurl the Democrats back into the majority in the House of Representatives, chances for peace negotiations — favorable to the South — increased.
Lee also recognized an opportunity on the diplomatic front. England and France were considering possible recognition of the Confederate States of America. Victories by Lee’s army on northern territory could persuade the Europeans to acknowledge the South as a separate nation.
“The present seems to be the most propitious time,” Lee reasoned to Davis.
Gen. Lee also acknowledged the dangers of an invasion. He was aware the enemy outnumbered him.
He knew his men were bedraggled, hungry and tired. He understood his success must depend upon stealth and speed.
But Lee envisioned unparalleled results. If he could defeat the northern army on U.S. soil, the ramifications could be stunning.
“I am aware that the movement is attended with much risk,” Lee admitted to Davis. “Yet I do not consider success impossible, and shall endeavor to guard it from loss.”
Lee was determined. Lee was convinced. The war would go north of the Potomac.
Quotes extracted from Dennis E. Frye’s newest book, “September Suspense: Lincoln’s Union in Peril.” Frye’s other recent release is “Harpers Ferry Under Fire: A Border Town during the Civil War.”