The Beginning of the Maryland Campaign Webmaster's Note: The name "The Beginning of the Maryland Campaign" is mine. It was created to make it easier to understand on the Internet and is not in the original book. The original title of this chapter is stated at the end of the page.
The campaigns in the East in the summer of 1862 were disappointment to the North. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac not only did not capture Richmond or disable the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, but were forced back from the furthest point of their advance. Though they inflicted heavy loss upon the enemy, they suffered heavy losses themselves, in men, guns, and property of all kinds. The last serious fighting they did in the Peninsular campaign was at Malvern Hill, on July 1st, and no further events of importance took place in that region. The army was withdrawn from the Peninsula, under the orders of the Government, in the following month of August. Whether McClellan himself had failed, and whether he was not in a better position for offensive operations when he was withdrawn than he had ever occupied elsewhere, is an interesting question, but one which does not fall within the scheme of this volume to discuss.
While McClellan and the main Eastern army were in the Peninsula, various bodies of troops were held by the Government in positions nearer Washington, to ensure the safety of the Capital. The most important of these were the armies of McDowell, Fremont, and Banks. By an order dated June 26, 1862, these forces were consolidated into the Army of Virginia, and placed under the command of General Pope. Its career under Pope was unfortunate. The Southern generals found it easier to deal with Banks and Pope than with McClellan, and at Cedar Mountain and at the second battle of Manassas they inflicted upon them disastrous defeats. The guns that they took were counted by tens, the prisoners by thousands, while the lists of our killed and wounded were long and ghastly. It is at this time, when the Army of Virginia and the Army of the Potomac were united within the lines constructed for the defence of Washington, that our story begins, on September 2, 1862.
It is not to be imagined that the Union forces thus collected in front of Washington were a rabble. It is true that even successful battle produces much disorganization, and that defeat, and still more, a series of defeats, produces much more. Officers are killed and wounded, men stray from their colors, arms and equipments are lost, and much confusion is caused, and the effective force of an army is sometimes very seriously impaired; but with even tolerable troops it is very rarely destroyed altogether, even for a day. It hardly ever happens that all the troops on either side are engaged. Some are held as reserves, and not brought into action; some are detached, guarding trains or roads or bridges, or posted to meet an attack which is not made; others are in the order of battle, but by some one or more of the singular accidents of the field, they remain practically untouched while death is busy around them. These bodies of troops, except in extreme cases, preserve their organization and their efficiency, and may be made of infinite service in forming lines under cover of which the regiments which have been more roughly handled may reform. Then, in war, it is the universal principle that there is never a vacancy. The instant a superior falls, the man next him takes his place, without an order, without an assignment. The colonel replaces the general, the line officer the field officer, the noncommissioned officer the commissioned officer. However vacancies may be filled by orders from headquarters, whatever form promotion may take, this is the universal rule in action--as soon as a vacancy occurs, the man next in rank fills it the moment he knows that it exists, and he continues to fill it till orders from superior authority make a different arrangement. Thus, except in those very rare cases in which an army becomes a mob, even defeat works no destruction of the framework of the great machine, and when the men are fairly intelligent, brave, and disciplined, order and efficiency are restored with great rapidity. Thus, after the severe defeats which Lee inflicted upon Pope, the rear guard of infantry, artillery, and cavalry was orderly and calm, and formed a strong line between the Federal and Confederate forces. Lee sent Jackson to the Little River Turnpike, to attempt to turn our right and intercept our retreat to Washington, and a sharp engagement, in which the Federal General Kearny was killed, took place on September 1, near Germantown, not far from Fairfax Court House. Lee admits that "the conflict was obstinately maintained by the enemy till dark," and that the attempt was abandoned. His army rested on the 2d, near the ground where this last engagement was fought, and marched on the 3d toward Leesburg.
It is not necessary to attempt in this place to state in detail the very peculiar position which General McClellan occupied during the last days of August. It may be sufficient to say that he was practically a commander without a command. General Halleck was General-in-Chief, and he appears to have been both confused and scared, and to have been hostile to McClellan. On the 1st of September, when Pope was at and in rear of Centreville, and Jackson was moving to assail his right flank and rear, and all or nearly all of the army of the Potomac had been sent out to join Pope, McClellan left his camp near Alexandria, where he had only his staff and a small camp-guard, and went into Washington. There General Halleck instructed him, verbally, to take command of the defences of Washington, but expressly limited his jurisdiction to the works and their garrisons, and prohibited him from exercising any control over the troops actively engaged in front under General Pope.
On the morning of the 2d, McClellan says: "The President and General Halleck came to my house, when the President informed me that Colonel Kelton had returned from the front; that our affairs were in a bad condition; that the army was in full retreat upon the defences of Washington; the roads filled with stragglers, etc. He instructed me to take steps at once to stop and collect the stragglers; to place the works in a proper state of defence, and to go out to meet and take command of the army, when it approached the vicinity of the works, then to place the troops in the best position--committing everything to my hands."
So far as appears, this verbal order of the President was the only one by which McClellan was reinstated in command, and there does not seem to have been any order issued by virtue of which the Army of Virginia ceased to exist. McClellan's first official act was to send a letter of suggestion, rather than command, to Pope, and he addressed it to "Major-General John Pope, Commanding Army of Virginia,'' and signed it "Gee. B. McClellan, Major-General United States Army." Eleven days later we find him dating a letter "Headquarters Army of the Potomac," and adding to his signature the words "Major-General Commanding.''
McClellan's talents as an organizer are generally admitted, and there is no doubt that at the date of which we are writing he was extremely popular with his men. As all pressure of the enemy was removed, as we have seen, on the day after the President directed him to take command of the army, he had a breathing-space in which to provide for the defences of Washington and to reorganize his army, but as the information which he received on the 3d led him to believe that the enemy intended to cross the upper Potomac into Maryland, it was necessary that the process of reorganization should go on while the troops were moving.
The necessary arrangements for the defence of the Capital were made, and General Banks was placed in command. He received his instructions from McClellan, and he had under his command the Third Corps, General Heintzelman, the Fifth Corps, General Porter, and the Eleventh Corps, General Sigel. These troops, with other troops in and about Washington, which may or may not have been included in these three corps, were reported to amount in all to 72,500 men.
The army which McClellan led from Washington was made up of the First Corps, to the command of which General Hooker was assigned; of the Second Corps, under Sumner; of one division of the Fourth Corps, under Couch; of the Sixth Corps, under Franklin; of the Ninth Corps, under Reno, and the Twelfth Corps, under Mansfield. General Couch's division was attached to the Sixth Corps. The First and Ninth Corps formed the right, under General Burnside; the Second and Twelfth the centre, under General Sumner; and the Sixth Corps, reinforced by the division of Couch, the left, under Franklin. Porter's Fifth Corps was, on the 11th of September, ordered forward to join McClellan. The aggregate present for duty of these forces, as reported by McClellan, September 20th, including the cavalry under General Pleasonton, was 89,452. He reported his losses in the two battles of South Mountain and the Antietam, both fought before the latter date, as 14,794. The aggregate of these two totals is 104,246. Swinton, in his "Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac," states that the army with which McClellan set out on the Maryland Campaign made an aggregate of 87,164 men of all arms. McClellan, in his Report, states that the total of his own forces in action at the battle of the Antietam was 87,164. The coincidence is suspicious, and lends one to believe that Swinton is in error. McClellan's statement of his numbers present for duty September 20, 1862, is officially certified as accurately compiled from his morning report of that day. The total of 89,452 therein given, not including the forces in the defences of Washington and certain detachments in Maryland, is partly made up of Porter's Corps, set down at 19,477. Deducting the latter number from the former, the remainder is 69,975. Adding the losses at South Mountain and the Antietam, 14,794, we have a total of 84,769 as the force with which he left Washington. Of course, the effective force of an army varies from day to day, from illness, death, discharge, and desertion on the one hand, and the arrival of convalescents and recruits on the other. It seems, therefore, fair to assume that McClellan left Washington with about 85,000 men, and that the arrival of Porter increased his force by an amount about equal to the losses which he sustained in the battles of the 14th and 17th of September.
General Lee's army was made up of Longstreet's command, of five divisions, containing twenty brigades; of Jackson's command, of three divisions, containing fourteen brigades; of D. H. Hill's division, of five brigades; the unattached brigade of Evans, and a very considerable force of cavalry and artillery, and probably numbered between forty and fifty thousand men, present for duty, but this question of the numbers actually engaged on each side in the Maryland campaign will receive more particular attention hereafter.
Washington and its environs presented singular sights in the early days of September, 1862. The luxury and refinements of peace contrasted sharply with the privations and squalor of war. There are few prettier suburban drives than those in the neighborhood of Washington, and no weather is more delightful than that of late summer there, when a cooler air comes with the shortening days. As the shadows lengthened in the golden afternoon, well-appointed carriages rolled along those charming drives, bearing fair women in cool and fresh costumes, and by their side the ragged, dusty, sunburnt regiments from the Peninsula trudged along. Rest, cleanliness, ice, food, drink, every indulgence of civilized life were within reach, but our hands could not be stretched out to grasp them. Military discipline was the dragon that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides. They were so near and yet so far. The mythic Tantalus must have been present to the minds of many of those who then marched by the road which leads from Washington to the Chain Bridge. The carriages returned to their stables, the fair ladies returned to the enjoyment of every pleasure that Washington could confer, but the Army of the Potomac moved steadily northward, to bivouac under the stars or the clouds, and to march again in its tatters through the dust and the sunshine, through the rain and the mud. Fortunately we had by this time become soldiers in something more than the name; we had learned to make much out of little, we were cheered by the more wholesome air and the more variegated country, we were glad to get out of the wilderness of the Peninsula. It was pleasant, too, to be once more in a country that was at least nominally friendly. Whatever the real feelings of the Marylanders might be, the stars and stripes might often be seen in other places than above the heads of the color-guards. Whether the natives sold to us gladly or not, they had much to sell, and that in itself was a most agreeable novelty to us. In the Peninsula, the country afforded us nothing, and the change from the land where our meat was fat pork, or odious beef served quivering from an animal heated by the long day's march and killed as soon as the day's march was ended, to a land where fresh vegetables and poultry were not rare, was very cheering. Money was not scarce. The pay of the army was liberal, and we had had no chance to spend money in the Peninsula. So our march was pleasant. Wood and water were easy to find, instead of requiring weary searches at the end of a weary day. We no longer had to send the pioneers to search for stakes, and then to fix them toilsomely in the hard, bare earth with their picks, before we could unsaddle and let our horses' bridles go. The foragers found forage for the poor beasts in abundance, and the little tins in which we had learned to cook so cleverly had often something in them better than hard bread, water, salt, pepper, and ration meat.
We knew nothing of the enemy's movements, and though we all expected to fight again, yet the general impression seemed to be that it would be, as Dickens says, at that somewhat indefinite period which is commonly known as one of these days. But it was a time of sharp surprises. No leaves to enter Washington were granted, but when the army was at Tenallytown, kind-hearted "Uncle John" Sedgwick, then commanding the Second Division of the Second Corps, ordered one of his officers into Washington for two days, "on regimental business." About noon of the second day following, the officer heard that his command had moved, and so hastened to overtake it. Nothing could have been more peaceful than the appearance of Washington as he left it on a lovely afternoon. The signs of war were always plenty there, of course, but there was absolutely nothing to indicate the neighborhood of an enemy. Every one seemed to be as absorbed in the pursuits of peaceful business and secure pleasure as if the blast of war had not been heard in the land. On foot, on horseback, in carriages, every one seemed to be out of doors, and enjoying, whether working or playing, the perfect close of a perfect day. The officer had not ridden many miles when he met a squad of prisoners, and learned that they had been taken that morning in a skirmish on the Maryland side of the Potomac. So Lee, or some of Lee's men, had invaded a loyal State, and there was every prospect that there would soon be wigs on the green. Proceeding a few miles further, the officer found his regiment, part of a line sleeping on its arms in the order of battle, and supporting some batteries, of which the guns were unlimbered, with the gunners lying at the trails of the pieces. The report was that Jackson, with a largely superior force, was close at hand, and apparently proposing to attack in the morning. It was a dramatic changing of the scene, from the comfort and careless gayety of Washington to a starlit bivouac, with every preparation made for meeting an impending attack.
Thus did the Army of the Potomac move out in the Maryland campaign. It remains to tell in what order and by what roads. As Lee had by September 3d disappeared from the front of Washington, and as McClellan had received information which induced him to believe that he intended to cross the upper Potomac into Maryland, he thought it likely that he might be obliged not only to protect Washington, but to cover Baltimore, and to prevent the invasion of Pennsylvania. He therefore, on the 3d, sent his cavalry to the fords near Poolesville, to watch the enemy and impede a crossing in that vicinity, while he sent the Second and Twelfth Corps to Tenallytown, and the Ninth to a point on the Seventh Street road, near Washington; and in these positions, and on the Virginia side of the Potomac, near Washington, the whole of the army seems to have remained on the 4th and part of the 5th, but by the 6th Couch's division of the Fourth Corps and Franklin's Sixth Corps were at Tenallytown and Offut's Cross Roads, the Second and Twelfth Corps were at Rockville, and the First and Ninth at Leesboro'. On the 7th McClellan left Washington, and headquarters and the Sixth Corps were moved to Rockville. By this time, McClellan knew that the mass of the rebel army had passed up the south side of the Potomac in the direction of Leesburg, and that a portion of their army had crossed into Maryland, but he had no means of determining whether Lee proposed to cross his whole force with a view to turn Washington by a flank movement down the north bank of the Potomac, to move on Baltimore, or to invade Pennsylvania. This uncertainty made it appear to him necessary "to march cautiously, and to advance the army in such order as to keep Washington and Baltimore continually covered, and at the same time to hold the troops well in hand, so as to be able to concentrate and follow rapidly if the enemy took the direction of Pennsylvania, or to return to the defence of Washington, if, as was greatly feared by the authorities, the enemy should be merely making a feint with a small force to draw off our army, while with their main forces they stood ready to seize the first favorable opportunity to attack the Capital."
The general course of the Potomac above Washington is from northwest to southeast. Harper's Ferry, at the junction of the Shenandoah with the Potomac, is nearly fifty miles northwest of Washington, in a straight line. Leesburg, on the Virginia side of the Potomac, is about thirty miles northwest of Washington. Loudoun Heights, the hills at the northern end of the Blue Ridge, and the Shenandoah River, are between Leesburg and Harper's Ferry. Maryland Heights, the hills at the southern end of Elk Ridge, the ridge next west of the South Mountain range, are on the Maryland side of the Potomac, and that river flows between them and Harper's Ferry. Frederick City is in Maryland, forty miles from Washington, and a little west of north of it. Baltimore is about thirty-five miles northeast of Washington, measuring in a straight line, and Philadelphia, measuring in the same way, is about ninety miles northeast of Baltimore. Thus McClellan's field of possible operations was, or was likely to be, the quadrant of a circle, of which the radius must be thirty miles, and might be four times [bitmap] that. Experience had shown that his adversary and one of his first lieutenants were enterprising, and that their army was extremely mobile. His left was tied to the Potomac, it not by the necessities of the case, at least by the fears of the authorities at Washington, and he could only reach out to the right so far as was consistent with the preservation of a line of prudent strength, and with the possibility of rapid concentration.
The army moved slowly, but the process of reorganization proceeded rapidly, the more rapidly, no doubt, by reason of the slowness of the march. On the 9th, Couch's division, the extreme left of the army, touched the Potomac, at the mouth of Seneca Creek. Franklin's corps was at Darnestown. The Second and Twelfth Corps, constituting the centre, were at Middleburg (or Middlebrook), and the First and Ninth Corps, forming the right, were at Brookville, while the division of Sykes, of Porter's Fifth Corps, was in the rear at Tenallytown. Thus the army, Sykes's division excepted, was on the 9th on the circumference of a circle described from the centre of Washington, with a radius of twenty miles, and with an extension from left to right of about twenty-five miles. Couch's division moved by the river road, watching the fords of the Potomac, and ultimately following and supporting the Sixth Corps. Moving through Poolesville and Barnesville, it reached Licksville by the 13th. Franklin moved by Dawsonville and Barnesville to Buckeystown, "covering the road (to the rear) from the mouth of the Monocacy to Rockville, and being in a position to connect with and support the centre should it have been necessary (as McClellan supposed) to force the line of the Monocacy." It reached Buckeystown on the 13th. Sykes's division moved by Rockville, Middleburg, and Urbanna to Frederick, which place it reached on the 13th. The Second Corps moved from Middleburg through Clarksburg and Urbanna, and the Twelfth through Damascus and thence between Urbanna and New Market, to Frederick, which place both corps reached on the 13th. The First and the Ninth Corps, constituting the right wing as before, moved on Frederick, the latter by Damascus and New Market, and the former, holding the extreme right, by Cooksville and Ridgeville. All of the right wing was at Frederick on the 13th, except that by night of that day all of the Ninth Corps except Rodman's division was advanced to Middletown. Thus by night of the 13th of September, the Army of the Potomac was disposed as follows: The bulk of the army was near Frederick, with a part of the Ninth Corps advanced some eight miles to Middletown, Franklin was at Buckeystown, some five miles to the left and rear, and Couch was at Licksville, a place in the northern angle formed by the junction of the Monocacy with the Potomac. The average distance of the army from Washington may be set down at forty miles. By this time, McClellan had come into possession of some very important information, but what it was may better be left untold till some account has been given of what Lee had been doing in the last ten days, and of the state of things existing at Harper's Ferry, which place was separated by probably ten miles from the nearest troops of McClellan, as well as by a river and some very mountainous country.
The views entertained by General Lee when he entered upon the Maryland campaign are here given in his own words, taken from his official Report, dated March 6, 1863, and printed in the first volume of the "Reports of the Operations of the Army of Northern Virginia, Richmond, 1864."
The armies of General McClellan and Pope had now been brought back to the point from which they set out on the campaigns of the spring and summer. The objects of those campaigns had been frustrated, and the designs of the enemy on the coast of North Carolina and in Western Virginia thwarted by the withdrawal of the main body of his forces from those regions. Northeastern Virginia was freed from the presence of Federal soldiers up to the intrenchments of Washington, and soon after the arrival of the army at Leesburg information was received that the troops which had occupied Winchester had retired to Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg. The war was thus transferred from the interior to the frontier, and the supplies of rich and productive districts made accessible to our army. To prolong a state of affairs in every way desirable, and not to permit the season for active operations to pass without endeavoring to inflict further injury upon the enemy, the best course appeared to be the transfer of the army into Maryland. Although not properly equipped for invasion, lacking much of the material of war, and feeble in transportation, the troops poorly provided with clothing, and thousands of them destitute of shoes, it was yet believed to be strong enough to detain the enemy upon the northern frontier until the approach of winter should render his advance into Virginia difficult, if not impracticable. The condition of Maryland encouraged the belief that the presence of our army, however inferior to that of the enemy, would induce the Washington Government to retain all its available force to provide against contingencies which its course toward the people of that State gave it reason to apprehend. At the same time it was hoped that military success might afford us an opportunity to aid the citizens of Maryland in any efforts they might be disposed to make to recover their liberties The difficulties that surrounded them were fully appreciated, and we expected to derive more assistance in the attainment of our object from the just fears of the Washington Government, than from active demonstration on the part of the people, unless success should enable us to give them assurance of continued protection.
Influenced by these considerations, the army was put in motion, D. H. Hill's division, which had joined us on the 2d, being in advance, and between September 4th and 7th crossed the Potomac at the fords near Leesburg, and encamped in the vicinity of Fredericktown.
It was decided to cross the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge, in order, by threatening Washington and Baltimore, to cause the enemy to withdraw from the south bank, where his presence endangered our communications and the safety of those engaged in the removal of our wounded and the captured property from the late battle-fields. Having accomplished this result, it was proposed to move the army into Western Maryland, establish our communications with Richmond through the Valley of the Shenandoah, and by threatening Pennsylvania induce the enemy to follow, and thus draw him from his base of supplies.
It may be remarked, in relation to this allegation of incomplete equipment, that it seems like an excuse for failure, made after the failure had occurred, and antedated, for Lee asserts in the same Report that in the series of engagements on the plains of Manassas, which had taken place just before, there had been captured more than nine thousand prisoners, wounded and unwounded, thirty pieces of artillery, upwards of twenty thousand stand of small arms, and a large amount of stores, besides those taken by General Jackson at Manassas Junction. Jackson says that he captured there eight guns, with seventy-two horses, equipments and ammunition complete, "immense supplies" of commissary and quartermaster stores, etc. With these additions to his supplies, it would seem as if the little army with which Lee says he fought the battles of the Maryland Campaign, might have been fairly well equipped, especially when we remember how far from scrupulous the Confederates were in exchanging their shoes and clothing for the better shoes and clothing of their prisoners.
Lee's plan was a good one. It is not probable that he promised himself the capture of Philadelphia, or Baltimore, or Washington, but he might fairly believe that the chances of war might change the improbable into the possible, and the possible into the actual. He had a right to expect to get more recruits from Maryland when his army was there, than when it was on the other side of the Potomac, without anticipating that "my Maryland" would breathe or burn in any exceptional fashion, or "be the battle-queen of yore." Without indulging in the illusions of audacious hope, he might fairly count upon great and certain gains from transferring his army to the soil of Maryland. By so doing he shifted the burden of military occupation from Confederate to Federal soil. He secured to the Virginians the precious crops of the Shenandoah Valley and their other Northeastern counties. He had two or three months of fine weather before him. He had for his opponent McClellan, and experience had shown him that McClellan never attacked, and always let him choose his own time and place for fighting. His army had learned to march with great rapidity and to fight with great gallantry and tenacity, and he had several lieutenants upon whom he knew he could place very great reliance. Under all the circumstances, he might well think that at the head of his army, with its habit of victory, and with the Shenandoah Valley open behind him, he had everything to gain and nothing to lose from an autumn campaign in Maryland, against the Army of the Potomac with its habit of defeat, and against McClellan with his want of initiative. Whether he knew or even suspected how heavily the brave and loyal and long-suffering Army of the Potomac was handicapped by the miserable jealousies, civil and military, that prevailed at the time, cannot be told. If he did, the knowledge must have greatly raised his hopes and increased his confidence. If Lee had been in McClellan's place on the 17th of September, and had sent Jackson to conduct the right attack and Longstreet to force the passage of the lower bridge and turn the Confederate right, the Army of Northern Virginia, though commanded by a second Lee, a second Jackson, and a second Longstreet, would have ceased to exist that day.
In the northward movement of Lee's army, D. H. Hill had the advance. The crossing of the Potomac was effected at the ford near Leesburg, between the 4th and the 7th of September, and the army encamped in the vicinity of Frederick. The march was unopposed. The concentration was effected while McClellan's army was still twenty miles or more away.
Lee had expected that the advance upon Frederick would lead to the evacuation of Martinsburg and Harper's Ferry, and thus open his line of communication through the Valley of Virginia. Troops had been placed there, 2,500 men at Martinsburg under General White, and 9,000 men at Harper's Ferry, under Colonel Miles, of the Second United States Infantry, to command the débouché of the Shenandoah Valley. Whatever the propriety of placing such forces in such positions in ordinary times may have been, it is plain that the presence of Lee's army in Maryland put a new face upon the matter, and that these troops must then either be able to hold their position till relieved, in other words, be able to stand a siege, or ought at once to decamp and join themselves to the nearest substantial Union force. Lee thought they or their superiors would see this, and that they would be ordered to go. He says "it had been supposed that the advance upon Frederick would lead to the evacuation of Martinsburg and Harper's Ferry, thus opening the line of communication through the Valley. This not having occurred, it became necessary to dislodge the enemy from those positions before concentrating the army west of the mountains." McClellan perceived that these troops were of little or no use where they were, in the altered position of affairs, and he probably knew that they could not hold Harper's Ferry against Lee if Lee turned against them. At any rate he telegraphed General Halleck, the General-in-Chief, on the 11th, "Colonel Miles....can do nothing where he is, but could be of great service if ordered to join me. I suggest that he be ordered at once to join me by the most practicable route." General Halleck replied by telegraph the same day: "There is no way for Colonel Miles to join you at present. The only chance is to defend his works until you can open a communication with him. When you do so, he will be subject to your orders." General Halleck seems to have been mistaken in the facts, as Loudoun Heights were not reached by the enemy till the 13th, and there seems to be no reason why Miles might not have retreated by the south bank of the Potomac long before the toils were drawn around him. Halleck seems to have been in error, as a matter of military principle, but the error probably resulted favorably for the Union arms, as will be seen.
The position, then, was this: Lee, with his army concentrated at Frederick, knew that there was a comparatively small force of the enemy in his rear, and on his main line of communication, and thought that it must be dislodged before he concentrated his army west of the mountains. He also knew that the Federal army was advancing slowly, and giving him a chance to operate against Harper's Ferry. McClellan knew by the 10th that it was "quite probable" that Lee's army was in the vicinity of Frederick, and on the next day that the General-in-Chief declined to move Miles from Harper's Ferry, and left him to open communications with him. Here, then, was the best possible opportunity for a race. It should be said, in justice to McClellan, that before he left Washington, and when the movement was not only possible but easy, he had recommended that the garrison of Harper's Ferry should be withdrawn by the way of Hagerstown, to aid in covering the Cumberland Valley, or that, taking up the pontoon bridge across the Potomac, and obstructing the railroad bridge, it should fall back to Maryland Heights, and there hold out to the last. Neither of these suggestions was adopted, and there was nothing left for McClellan to do but to endeavor to relieve the garrison. It was plainly a case for great activity on McClellan's part. His uncertainty, up to the 13th of September, as to the intentions of the enemy, and the telegraphic messages from Halleck, the General-in-Chief, cautioning him against exposing his left and rear and uncovering Washington, may be accepted as valid excuses for the slowness of his movements, and his unwillingness to advance his left more rapidly than his other columns, but on the 13th the position of things changed, and all uncertainty as to the intentions of the enemy were dispelled. On that day, at an hour which we have no means of fixing, further than that it was before 6.20 P.M., an order of such importance fell into his hands that we copy it in full.
SPECIAL ORDERS NO. 191.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
September 9, 1862.
The army will resume its march to-morrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson's command will form the advance, and, after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route toward Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and by Friday night take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and capture such of the enemy as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper's Ferry.
General Longstreet's command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsboro', where it will halt with the reserve, supply, and baggage trains of the army.
General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet; on reaching Middletown, he will take the route to Harper's Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights, and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper's Ferry and vicinity.
General Walker, with his division, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Loudoun heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Keys' ford on his left and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, co-operate with General McLaws and General Jackson in intercepting the retreat of the enemy.
General D. H. Hill's division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance and supply trains, etc., will precede General Hill.
General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws, and with the main body of the cavalry will cover the route of the army and bring up all stragglers that may have been left behind.
The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsboro' or Hagerstown.
Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance wagons, for use of the men at their encampments, to procure wood, etc.
By command of GENERAL R. E. LEE.
R. H. CHILTON,
Assistant Adjutant General.
MAJOR-GENERAL D. H. HILL,
It appears from the statement of Colonel Taylor, Adjutant-General of the Army of Northern Virginia, that at this time General D. H. Hill was in command of a division which had not been attached to nor incorporated with either of the two wings of that army, and that one copy of Special Orders No. 191, was sent to him directly from headquarters, and that General Jackson also sent him a copy, as he regarded Hill in his command, and that the order sent from general headquarters was carelessly left by some one in Hill's camp; while the other, which was in Jackson's own hand, was preserved by Hill.
This order told McClellan two things, both of great importance.
First.--That Lee, by orders issued four days before, had divided his army, sending Jackson and his command, and Walker's division, across the Potomac.
Second.--That the object of this division was the capture of the garrison at Harper's Ferry, and the large outpost at Martinsburg. It also gave him the additional and scarcely less important information, where the rest of the army, trains, rear guard, cavalry, and all, were to march and to halt, and where the detached commands were to join the main body.
The finding of this paper was a piece of rare good fortune. It placed the Army of Northern Virginia at the mercy of McClellan, provided only that he came up with it and struck while its separation continued. If he hurried his left column by Burkittsville, through Crampton's Gap, it would come directly upon the rear of McLaws's force on Maryland Heights. If he pressed his right by Middletown, through Turner's Gap, he would interpose between Hill and Longstreet on the one hand, and all the troops beyond the Potomac on the other. The case called for the utmost exertion, and the utmost speed. He could afford to let one of the three great divisions of his army move less rapidly, but not a moment should have been lost in pushing his columns detailed for the left and right advance through the South Mountain passes. Twenty miles is a liberal estimate of the distance which each column had to march. It was a case for straining every nerve, and, though it is not certain at just what times the Confederate troops sent back to hold these passes actually occupied them, yet it is certain that they were very feebly held as late as the morning of the 14th, and that Harper's Ferry was not surrendered till 8 A.M. on the 15th, thirty-eight hours certainly, probably considerably more, after the lost order came to the hands of McClellan. It cannot be said that he did not act with considerable energy, but he did not act with sufficient. The opportunity came within his reach, such an opportunity as hardly ever presented itself to a commander of the Army of the Potomac, and he almost grasped it, but not quite. As Lee's movements were earlier in point of time, we will describe them first, and it will be seen that nothing could have been nearer or completer than the way in which his lieutenants carried out his orders.
Jackson's command left the vicinity of Frederick on the 10th, and passing rapidly through Middletown, Boonsboro' and Williamsport, twenty-five miles or more from Frederick, crossed the Potomac into Virginia on the 11th. From Williamsport, one division moved on the turnpike from that town to Martinsburg. The two other divisions moved further to the west, to prevent the Federal forces at Martinsburg from escaping westward unobserved. General White, in command of the outpost at Martinsburg, becoming advised of the Confederate approach, left that town on the night of the 11th, and retreated to Harper's Ferry. Early on the 12th, the head of the Confederate column came in view of the Federal troops, drawn up on Bolivar Heights, above Harper's Ferry. The three divisions went into camp at and near Halltown, about two miles from the Federal position. There they waited for news from the co-operating columns.
General McLaws, with his own and General Anderson's divisions, moved on the 10th by Burkittsville, into Pleasant Valley. This valley runs north and south, between the South Mountains on the east and Elk Ridge on the west. The southern extremity of Elk Ridge, where it is cut by the Potomac, is called Maryland Heights, and these heights completely command Harper's Ferry with a plunging fire. While Maryland Heights were held by the Federals, Harper's Ferry could not be occupied by the Confederates. If the Confederates gained possession of those heights, the town was no longer tenable by the Federals. After meeting and overcoming some opposition, McLaws gained full possession of Maryland Heights by 4.30 P.M. of the 13th. He promptly made such dispositions of his troops as prevented all possibility of escape from the town to the east, and then waited to hear from Jackson and Walker. He employed his time in getting artillery into position on the heights, and by 2 P. M. of the 14th he opened fire from four guns.
General Walker crossed the Potomac at Point of Rocks, during the night of the 10th and by daylight of the 11th, and proceeded the next day toward Harper's Ferry, encamping at Hillsborough. On the morning of the 13th, he reached the foot of the Loudoun Heights, and presently occupied them with two regiments. In the afternoon, he learned that McLaws had possession of Maryland Heights, which commanded the Loudoun Heights as well as Harper's Ferry, and he proceeded to place all of his division which was not on the heights in position to prevent the escape of the garrison of Harper's Ferry down the right bank of the Potomac.
By these movements of Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, the Federal force at Harper's Ferry was surrounded, and at the mercy of the enemy. Colonel Miles, its commander, was killed in the operations which led to the reduction of the place, and it is not known upon what grounds he could have expected to hold the place, if attacked with energy and intelligence, without retaining possession of Maryland Heights. It is stated by McClellan, however, that on the morning of the 14th, a messenger reached him from Colonel Miles, and told him that Maryland Heights had been abandoned by his troops, and that they as well as the Loudoun and Bolivar Heights had been occupied by the enemy. The messenger also said that Colonel Miles instructed him to say that he could hold out with certainty two days longer. If Colonel Miles really sent this message, it is difficult to understand how he could have entertained such a belief.
A man may travel far and wide in America without coming upon a lovelier spot than the heights above Harper's Ferry. The town itself is low and possesses no particular attractions, but one who stands above it may see the beautiful Valley of Virginia extending far to the folded hills of the southwest. As he looks to the town, the Loudoun Heights rise boldly on his right, and between him and them the Shenandoah, a stream that deserves the epithet of arrowy as well as the Rhone, rushes to its union with the broad and yellow and sluggish Potomac. In the hollow before him is the town, with Maryland Heights rising like the Trossachs beyond the river, and, that nothing may be wanting to the picture, there is the canal, with its "margin willow veiled," and its barges, to give the contrast of utter, dreamy repose to the vehemence of the Shenandoah and the rugged grandeur of the hills.
On September 14th Jackson made his final dispositions, causing A. P. Hill to advance on his right till he reached the Shenandoah, and from there to move forward till his guns and troops were above, to the right, and in rear of the left of the Federal line of defence. Ewell's division, under Lawton, moved along the turnpike, to support Hill and aid in the general movement. Jackson's own division, under J. R. Jones, secured with one brigade a commanding hill to the left, near the Potomac, the rest moving along the turnpike as a reserve. During the night, seven batteries were placed in advanced positions, and ten guns were taken across the Shenandoah, and established on its right bank, in a position which gave them an enfilade fire on the Federal line on Bolivar Heights, while the remaining batteries of Jackson's command were placed in position on School House Hill. Early on the 15th every Confederate gun opened fire--the numerous batteries of Jackson's command, Walker's guns from Loudoun Heights, the guns sent across the Shenandoah during the night, McLaws's guns from Maryland Heights. In an hour the Federal fire seemed to be silenced, the signal for storming the works was given, and the advance was begun, when the Federal fire reopened. The Confederate guns replied, and at once the white flag was displayed by the Federals, and presently General White, who had succeeded to the command when Colonel Miles received a mortal wound, surrendered himself and 11,000 men, with 73 pieces of artillery, many small arms and other stores.
The first part of the Confederate programme had been carried out with complete success, but with greater expenditure of time than Lee had anticipated, and it will be seen that the delay almost proved fatal to him, and that McClellan ought to have made it absolutely fatal to him.
Source: Campaigns Of The Civil War--V. The Antietam And Fredericksburg By Francis Winthrop Palfrey, Chapter I, Commencement of the Campaign.
This page last updated 01/03/03