A few hours after my arrival, Governor Letcher gave me the appointment of major-general. The commander-in-chief assigned me to the service of organizing and instructing the volunteers then just beginning to assemble at the call of the Governor. He himself was then selecting the points to be occupied by these troops for the protection of the State , and determining the number to be assigned to each.
Norfolk , a point near Yorktown , another in front of Fredericksburg , Manassas Junction , Harper's Ferry , and Grafton , seemed to be regarded by him as the most important positions, for they were to be occupied in greatest force. Near the end of April, however, the second named was promoted to a colonelcy and assigned to the command of Harper's Ferry , held until then by Colonel Kenton Harper.
Then, Virginia having acceded to the Southern Confederacy, the government of which assumed the direction of military affairs, I accepted a brigadier-generalcy offered me by telegraph by the President. It was then the highest grade in the Confederate army. The offer had been made in one or two previous telegrams sent to General Lee , for me, but not delivered. The Virginia Convention had abolished my office in the State service, and offered me the next lower.
But, as it was certain that the war would be conducted by the Confederate Government, and its officers had precedence of those having like State grades, I preferred the Confederate commission.
The President had me called to Montgomery to receive instructions, and there assigned me to the command of Harper's Ferry. In my journeys from Washington to Richmond , from Richmond to Montgomery , and thence to Harper's Ferry , I saw in the crowds assembled at all the railroad-stations the appearance of great enthusiasm for the war against subjugation-so much as to give me the impression that all of the population fit for military service might have been brought into the field, if the Confederate Government could have furnished them with arms and ammunition-which, unfortunately, it had not provided.
Kirby Smith , 1 acting adjutant-general , Major W. Whiting , 2 of the Engineer Corps, Major E. Preston , assistant adjutant-general. Within an hour the commanding officer , Colonel Jackson , 3 visited me; learned the object of my coming, and read the order of the War Department, assigning me to the command he had been exercising.
My order announcing the change of commanders, made by the President 's authority, was sent to him next morning, with the request that he would have the proper number of copies made and distributed to the troops, as I had no office as yet. Major Whiting , who had been his school-fellow, saw him at my request, and convinced him very soon that the President 's authority was paramount in military affairs, and his action in the [ 15 ] case in accordance with military usage.
This misunderstanding of military custom produced little more delay than the time consumed by the messenger in bringing me Colonel Jackson 's note, and by Major Whiting in going to that officer's quarters from mine. This little affair is mentioned, only because what seems to me a very exaggerated account of it has been published. The Federal commanding officer , when compelled by the approach of the Virginia troops to abandon the place, set fire to the buildings containing these arms, 5 to destroy what he could not save for his government.
Soon after being appointed commander-in-chief of the forces of the State , General Lee increased the garrison of Harper's Ferry , and placed Colonel Jackson in command there. On extending its control of military affairs over Virginia , the Confederate Government, as if equally impressed with the importance of the position, made another addition to the troops assembled there — of three regiments and two battalions of infantry. Hill , who won the grade of lieutenant-general; Stuart , matchless as commander of outposts; and Pendleton , General Lee 's commander of artillery.
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These troops were undisciplined, of course. They were also badly armed and equipped-several regiments being without accoutrements-and were almost destitute of ammunition, and, like all new troops assembled in large bodies, they were suffering very much from sickness; nearly forty per cent. General Lee 's command in Virginia , as major-general in the State service, was continued until Richmond became the Confederate seat of government.
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The law converting the Confederate brigadier-generals into generals, approved May 16th, had not been published to the army in orders, by the War Department, but was known to be in existence, for it had appeared in the newspapers. A careful examination of the position and its environs, made on the 25th, with the assistance of an engineer of great ability, Major Whiting , convinced me that it could not be held against equal numbers by such a force as then occupied it. Harper's Ferry is untenable against an army by any force not strong enough to hold the neighboring heights north of the Potomac and east of the Shenandoah , as well as the place itself.
It is a triangle formed by the Potomac , Shenandoah , and Furnace Ridge , the latter extending from river to river, a mile and a half above their junction. Artillery on the heights above mentioned to the north and east could sweep every part of this space.
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As the rivers are fordable at various points, it was easy to turn or invest the place, or assail it on the west Furnace Ridge side. Two main routes lead from Maryland and Pennsylvania [ 18 ] into the Valley of Virginia , meeting at Winchester : one passing through Frederick , and crossing the Potomac at Harper's Ferry ; the other leading through Chambersburg , Williamsport where it crosses the Potomac , and Martinsburg. This road is, perhaps, little shorter than that from Manassas Junction to Harper's Ferry ; but there were insuperable objections to the latter.
Near Harper's Ferry it follows the course of the Potomac , and could be completely swept by artillery on the north bank of the river, so that it might have been closed to us by a few Federal batteries; and, even if our troops following it escaped that danger, they might have been intercepted near Centreville by the Federal army.
The United States had, at that time, three armies threatening Virginia. We supposed that these armies would cooperate with each other, and that the Federal general-in-chief would direct their combined forces against Richmond.
This supposition was partially sustained by our scouts and friends in Maryland , who reported that the armies of Generals Patterson and McClellan [ 19 ] were to unite at Winchester ; and this report was confirmed by the Northern press. It was necessary, of course, that the Confederate troops in the Valley should always be ready to meet this invasion, as well as to unite quickly with the army at Manassas Junction , whenever it might be threatened by General McDowell 's.
At Harper's Ferry , they were manifestly out of position for either object, for Patterson 's route from Chambersburg lay through Williamsport and Martinsburg — a long day's march to the west; and the only direct road thence to Manassas Junction was completely under the enemy's control. Winchester was obnoxious to neither objection, but, on the contrary, fulfilled the conditions desired better than any other point.
The commanders on both sides, in the subsequent military operations in that region, seem to have appreciated its importance, and to have estimated its value as I did, except those who disposed the forces of the United States in September, , when eleven thousand men, placed at Harper's Ferry as a garrison, were captured, almost without resistance, by General Lee 's troops, coming from Maryland.
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My objections to Harper's Ferry as a position, and to the idea of making a garrison instead of an active force of the troops intrusted with the defense of that district, were expressed to the proper authorities in letters dated May 26th and 28th, and June 6th, and replied to by General Lee 7 on the 1st and 7th of June. These letters of his express the [ 20 ] dissent of the authorities from my views, and their opinion that the maintenance of the existing arrangement was necessary to enable us to retain the command of the Valley of Virginia , and our communications with Maryland , held to be very important.
The difficulties which surround it have been felt from the beginning of its occupation, and I am aware of the obstacles to its maintenance with your present force. Every effort has been made to remove them, and will be continued. But, with similar necessities pressing on every side, you need not be informed of the difficulty of providing against them. The importance of the subject has induced me to lay it before the President , that he may be informed of your views.
He places great value upon the retention of the command of the Shenandoah Valley, and the position at Harper's Ferry.
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The evacuation of the latter would interrupt our communication with Maryland , and injure our cause in that State Notwithstanding this determination on the part [ 21 ] of the Executive , I resolved not to continue to occupy the place after the purposes for which the troops were sent to it should require them elsewhere. About the 9th of June, however, I again represented to the Government the objections to its plan, and urged it to change the character of my command.
We communicated with each other at once, and agreed that the first attacked should be aided by the other to his utmost. We were convinced of our mutual dependence, and agreed in the opinion that the safety of the Confederacy depended on the cooperation of the armies we commanded. In the mean time the Potomac was observed by the cavalry from the Point of Rocks to the western part of the county of Berkeley , as had been done under my predecessor.
The manufacture of cartridge-boxes and belts was ordered in the neighboring towns and villages. Cartridges were made of powder furnished by Governor Letcher , and lead found at the place, or procured in the neighborhood. Caps in small quantities only were smuggled from Baltimore. Caissons were constructed at Captain Pendleton 's suggestion, by fixing roughly-made ammunition-chests on the running-parts of farm-wagons. Horses, and harness of various kinds, for the artillery, and wagons and [ 22 ] teams for field-transportation, were collected in the surrounding country; and the work of removing the machinery of the armory, begun by Governor Letcher 's orders, was continued.
Two heavy guns on naval carriages, that had been placed in battery on the west side of the village by Colonel Jackson 's direction, were mounted on Furnace Ridge. My predecessors had constructed two very slight outworks, one on the summit of the mountain on the Maryland side of the Potomac , the other on the Loudon Heights. About the 10th of the month, General Patterson , who had been organizing and instructing his troops at Chambersburg , advanced from that place to Hagerstown.
According to the information we could obtain from scouts and intelligent people of the country, they amounted to about eighteen thousand men. The organization of this army, as published in a newspaper of Hagerstown , corresponded very well with this estimate; for twenty-four regiments of infantry were enumerated in it, and several small bodies of regular artillery and cavalry. At sunrise on the 13th the Hon. James M.
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Mason brought from Winchester intelligence, received there the night before, that two thousand Federal troops, supposed to be the advanced guard of General McClellan 's army, had marched into Romney the day before. That place is forty-three miles west of [ 23 ] Winchester. As this information had come from the most respectable sources, it was believed, and Colonel A. Hill immediately dispatched to Winchester with his own Thirteenth and Colonel Gibbons 's Tenth Virginia regiments on trains provided by Mr. Mason 's forethought.
The troops followed on the morning of the 15th, by the Berryville road, and bivouacked for the night three or four miles beyond Charlestown. Before the time for resuming the march next morning, intelligence was received from the cavalry outposts that General Patterson 's army had crossed the Potomac below Williamsport , and was marching toward Martinsburg.
I determined at once to oppose its advance on that road; and directed the march of the Confederate troops across the country to Bunker's Hill , midway between Martinsburg and Win. You will consider yourself authorized, whenever the position of the enemy shall convince you that he is about to turn your position, to destroy every thing at Harper's Ferry which could serve the purposes of the enemy, and retire upon the railroad toward Winchester.