Book Review: Crosshairs on the Capital: Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, D.C., July 1864 - Reasons, Reactions, and Results


by James H. Bruns

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xvi, 240. Illus., map., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1636240119

Jubal Early’s Famous “Raid on Washington”

Crosshairs on the Capitol tells the story of Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in 1864. Most works on the subject focus on battles and leader. James Bruns, who has written widely in U.S. history, throws a wider net as he explores Robert E. Lee’s reasons for sending Early’s soldiers from Petersburg across the Potomac. Ostensibly the mission was to liberate the Confederate prisoners held at Point Lookout, Maryland, inspired by the Union’s unsuccessful attempt to raid Richmond and free prisoners from Libby Prison. But Bruns points out that the incursion was also intended to pull Union forces from the Shenandoah Valley, in an effort to protect the Army of Northern Virginia’s bread basket, to ease pressure on the Army of Northern Virginia on the Petersburg Front, possibly to encourage European support for the South, and to affect the upcoming Presidential election.

In writing this work, Bruns went beyond purely military matters, to look at the opinions, apprehensions, frustrations and experiences of the local inhabitants about their security, how to cope with being in the midst of moving armies, hostilities, and the general stresses of war.

Washington was rather more prepared for defense than it had been in 1814, when the British captured and burned the city. But although well fortified, the capital was at risk because most veteran troops previously guarding the city had been dispatched to support the Army of the Potomac on the Petersburg front, so the defenses were relatively under manned, and many of those holding the forts were militiamen called up for a few months’ service, freed slaves, government clerks, shop keepers, and troops of the Veteran Reserve Corps.

As Early’s troops swept down on Washington, the troops gathered livestock and foodstuffs, ransomed towns for cash and goods, tried to recruit Southern-sympathizers, disrupted communications, and spread panic.

Bruns provides significant detail on the principal actions of the campaign, from the Confederate capture of Harpers Ferry, through the Battle of Monocacy, where a Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace’s small Union force was beaten badly, but cost Early precious time, and the Confederate attempt to storm Washington at Fort Stevens, where Lincoln himself was momentarily at risk. He gives us details of these actions, several cavalry raids, and the Union efforts to counter Early’s movements, explaining how and why things unfolded as they did. In this way, Bruns shows that Early never could have captured D.C., nor free the Confederate prisoner at Point Lookout.

In an interesting Epilogue, Bruns notes that following Early’s retreat from Washington, General Ulysses S. Grant suggested that the city’s forts be used as training camps for new recruits, to help calm local residents fears of another attack, while strengthening the garrison, providing additional forces for the capital’s protection..

Highly recommended.

Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era, Unlike Anything That Ever Floated, Meade at Gettysburg, A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans, Grant's Left Hook, The Winter that Won the War: The Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778, Gettysburg Rebels, The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865, Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg, The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Custer: From the Civil War’s Boy General to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg, Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the Civil War, and The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg and Tullahoma



Note: Crosshairs on the Capita is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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