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At Leesburg and vicinity. --------------------------------- 4,500 men. In the Shenandoah valley. . . . . . . . . . . ---------------------. 13,000 men.
About three hundred field guns and from twenty-six to thirty siege guns were with the rebel army in front of Washington. The report made on the 17th of March, after the evacuation of Manassas and Centreville, corroborates the statements contained in the report of the 8th, and is fortified by the affidavits of several railroad engineers, constructors, baggage-masters, &c., whose opportunities for forming correct estimates were unusually good. These affidavits will be found in the accompanying reports of the chief of the secret service corps. A reconnoissance of the works at Centreville made by Lieutenant McAlester, United States engineers, on March 14, 1862, and a survey of those at Manassas, made by a party of the United States coast survey, in April, 1862, confirmed also my conclusions as to the strength of the enemy's defences. Those at Centreville consisted of two lines, one facing east and the other north. The former consisted of seven works, viz: one bastion fort, two redoubts, two lunettes, and two batteries; all containing embrasures for forty guns, and connected by infantry parapets and double caponiéres. It extended along the crest of the ridge a mile and three-quarters from its junction with the northern front to ground thickly wooded and impassable to an attacking column. The northern front extended about one and one-fourth mile to Great Rocky run, and thence three-fourths of a mile further to thickly wooded, impassable ground in the valley of Cub run. It consisted of six lunettes and batteries with embrasures for thirty-one guns, connected by an infantry parapet in the form of a cremaillère line with redans. At the town of Centreville, on a high hill commanding the rear of all the works within range, was a large hexagonal redoubt with ten embrasures. Manassas station was defended in all directions by a system of detached works, with platforms for heavy guns arranged for marine carriages, and often connected by infantry parapets. This system was rendered complete by a very large work, with sixteen embrasures, which commanded the highest of the other works by about fifty feet. Sketches of the recommoissances above referred to will be found among the maps appended to this report. From this it will be seen that the positions selected by the enemy at Centreville and Manassas were naturally very strong, with impassable streams and broken ground, affording ample protection for their flanks, and that strong lines of intrenchments swept all the available approaches. Although the history of every former war has conclusively shown the great advantages which are possessed by an army acting on the defensive and occupying strong positions, defended by heavy earthworks; yet, at the commencement of this war, but few civilians in our country, and, indeed, not all military men of rank, had a just appreciation of the fact. New levies that have never been in battle cannot be expected to advance without cover under the murderous fire from such defences, and carry them by assault. This is work in which veteran troops frequently falter and are repulsed with loss. That an assault of the enemy's positions in front of Washington, with the new troops composing the army of the Potomac, during the winter of 1861–62, would have resulted in defeat and demoralization, was too probable. The same army, though inured to war in many battles, hard fought and bravely won, has twice, under other generals, suffered such disasters as it was no excess of prudence then to avoid. My letter to the Secretary of War, dated February 3, 1862, and given above, expressed the opinion that the movement to the Peninsula would compel the enemy to retire from his position at Manassas and free Washington from danger. When the enemy first learned of that plan, they did thus evacuate Manassas. During the Peninsula campaign, as at no former period, northern Virginia was completely in our possession, and the vicinity of Washington free from the presence of the enemy. The ground so gained was not lost, nor Washington again put in danger, until the enemy learned of the orders for the evacuation of the Peninsula, sent to me at Harrison's bar, and were again left free to advance northward and menace the national capital. Perhaps no one now doubts that the best defence of Washington is a Peninsula attack on Richmond. My order for the organization of the army corps was issued on the 13th of March ; it has been given above. While at Fairfax Court House, on March 12, I was informed through the telegraph, by a member of my staff, that the following document had appeared in the National Intelligencer of that morning:
[President's War Order, No. 3..]
“Major General McClellan having personally taken the field at the head of the army of the Potomac, until otherwise ordered, he is relieved from the command of the other military departments, he retaining command of the department of the Potomac. “Ordered, further, That the departments now under the respective commands of Generals Halleck and Hunter, together with so much of that under General Buell as lies west of a north and south line indefinitely drawn through Knoxville, Tennessee, be consolidated and designated the department of the Mississippi; and that, until otherwise ordered, Major General Halleck have command of said department. “Ordered, also, That the country west of the department of the Potomac and east of the department of the Mississippi be a military department, to be called the mountain department, and that the same be commanded by Major General Frémont. “That all the commanders of departments, after the receipt of this order by them, respectively report severally and directly to the Secretary of War, and that prompt, full, and frequent reports will be expected of all and each of them. “ABRAHAM LINCOLN.”
Though unaware of the President's intention to remove me from the position of general-in-chief, I cheerfully acceded to the disposition he saw fit to make of my services, and so informed him in a note on the 12th of March, in which occur these words:
“I believe I said to you some weeks since, in connexion with some western matters, that no feeling of self-interest or ambition should ever prevent me from devoting myself to the service. I am glad to have the opportunity to prove it, and you will find that, under present circumstances, I shall work just as cheerfully as before, and that no consideration of self will in any manner interfere with the discharge of my public duties. Again thanking you for the official and personal kindness you have so often evinced towards me, I am,” &c., &c.
On the 14th of March a reconnoissance of a large body of cavalry with some infantry, under command of General Stoneman, was sent along the Orange and Alexandria railroad to determine the position of the enemy, and, if possible, force his rear across the Rappahannock, but the roads were in such condition that, finding it impossible to subsist his men, General Stoneman was forced to return after reaching Cedar run.
The following despatch from him recites the result of this expedition:
“HEADQUARTERs, UNION MILLs,
“We arrived here last evening about dark. We got corn for horses; no provisions for men. Bull run too high to cross. Had we stayed an hour longer we should not have got here to-day, owing to the high water in the streams. Felt the enemy cautiously, and found him in force at Warrenton Junction. Saw two regiments of cavalry and three bodies of infantry on the other side of Cedar run. Had we crossed, should not have been able to get back for high water. Had three men of 5th cavalry hit driving in enemy's pickets; one slightly wounded in the head. Enemy acted confidently, and followed us some way back on the road, but did not molest us in any way. Enemy's force consisted of Stuart's and Ewell's cavalry, a battery of artillery, and some infantry. Railroad bridges all burned down up to Warrenton Junction; still entire beyond, but all in readiness to burn at a moment's warning, having dry wood piled upon them. Heard cars running during night before last; probably bringing up troops from Rappahannock. Heard of two regiments of infantry at Warrenton engaged in impressing the militia and securing forage. Heard of a large force of infantry this side of Rappahannock river, having come up to Warrenton Junction from Aquia creek day before yesterday. Bridges all destroyed this side of Broad run. The aids who take this will give you further particulars.
“Very respectfully, &c., “GEORGE STONEMAN, “Brigadier General, Commanding. “Col. Col.BURN.”
The main body of the army was, on the 15th of March, moved back to the vicinity of Alexandria to be embarked, leaving a part of General Sumner's corps at Manassas until other troops could be sent to relieve it. Before it was withdrawn a strong reconnoissance, under General Howard, was sent towards the Rappahannock, the result of which appears in the following despatch:
“Express just received from General Howard. He drove the enemy across the Rappahannock bridge, and is now in camp on this bank of and near the Rappahannock river.
“The enemy blew up the bridge in his retreat. There was skirmishing during the march, and a few shots exchanged by the artillery, without any loss on our part. Their loss, if any, is not known. General Howard will return to this camp to-morrow morning.
“E. W. SUMNER, Brigadier General. “General S. WILLIAMs.”
The line of the Rappahannock and the Manassas Gap railroad was thus left reasonably secure from menace by any considerable body of the enemy.
On the 13th of March a council of war was assembled at Fairfax Court House to discuss the military status. The President's order No. 3, of March 8th, was considered. The following is a memorandum of the proceedings of the council:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of THE POTOMAC, “Fairfax Court House, March 13, 1862. “A council of the generals commanding army corps, at the headquarters of the army of the Potomac, were of the opinion— “I. That the enemy having retreated from Manassas to Gordonsville, behind the Rappahannock and Rapidan, it is the opinion of the generals commanding army corps that the operations to be carried on will be best undertaken from Old Point Comfort, between the York and James rivers: Provided, “1st. That the enemy's vessel, Merrimack, can be neutralized. .“2d. That the means of transportation, sufficient for an immediate transfer of the force to its new base, can be ready at Washington and Alexandria to move down the Potomac ; and, “3d. That a naval auxiliary force can be had to silence, or aid in silencing, the enemy's batteries on the York river. “4th. That the force to be left to cover Washington shall be such as to give an entire feeling of security for its safety from menace. (Unanimous.) “II. If the foregoing cannot be, the army should then be moved against the enemy, behind the Rappahannock, at the earliest possible moment, and the means for reconstructing bridges, repairing railroads, and stocking them with materials sufficient for supplying the army, should at once be collected, for both the Orange and Alexandria and Aquia and Richmond railroads. (Unanimous.) “N. B.-That with the forts on the right bank of the Potomac fully garrisoned, and those on the left bank occupied, a covering force in front of the Virginia line of 25,000 men would suffice. (Keys, Heintzelman, and McDowell.) A total of 40,000 men for the defence of the city would suffice. (Sumner.”)
This was assented to by myself, and immediately communicated to the War Department. The following reply was received the same day:
“WAR IDEPARTMENT, March 13, 1862.
“The President having considered the plan of operations agreed upon by yourself and the commanders of army corps, makes no objection to the same, but gives the following directions as to its execution:
“1. Leave such force at Manassas Junction as shall make it entirely certain that the enemy shall not repossess himself of that position and line of communication.
“2. Leave Washington entirely secure.
“3. Move the remainder of the force down the Potomac, choosing a new base at Fortress Monroe, or anywhere between here and there, or, at all events, move such remainder of the army at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route.
“EDWIN M. STANTON, “Secretary of War. “Major General GEORGE B. McCLELLAN.”
My preparations were at once begun in accordance with these directions, and on the 16th of March the following instructions were sent to Generals Banks and Wadsworth: “HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, “March 16, 1862.
“SIR: You will post your command in the vicinity of Manassas, intrench Yourself strongly, and throw cavalry pickets well out to the front.
“Your first care will be the rebuilding of the railway from Washington to Manassas and to Strasburg, in order to open your communications with the valley of the Shenandoah. As soon as the Manassas Gap railway is in running order, intrench a brigade of infantry, say four regiments, with two batteries, at or near the point where the railway crosses the Shenandoah. Something like two regiments of cavalry should be left in that vicinity to occupy Winchester, and thoroughly scour the country south of the railway and up the Shenandoah valley, as well as through Chester gap, which might perhaps be advantageously occupied by a detachment of infantry, well intrenched. Block-houses should be built at all the railway bridges. Occupy by grand guards Warrenton Junc
tion and Warrenton itself, and also some little more advanced point on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, as soon as the railway bridge is repaired. “Great activity should be observed by the cavalry. Besides the two regiments at Manassas, another regiment of cavalry will be at your disposal, to scout towards the Occoquan, and probably a fourth towards Leesburg. “To recapitulate, the most important points which should engage your attention are as follows: “1. A strong force, well intrenched, in the vicinity of Manassas, perhaps even Centreville, and another force, (a brigade,) also well intrenched, near Strasburg. “2. Block-houses at the railway bridges. “3. Constant employment of the cavalry well to the front. “4. Grand guards at Warrenton Junction and in advance, as far as the Rappahannock, if possible. “5. Great care to be exercised to obtain full and early information as to the enemy. ' & 4 y The general object is to cover the line of the Potomac and Washington. “The above is communicated by command of Major General McClellan. “S. WILLIAMS, “Assistant Adjutant General. “Major General N. P. BANKs, “Commanding Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac.”
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of The PotoMAC, “March 16, 1862. “SIR: The command to which you have been assigned, by instructions of the President, as military governor of the District of Columbia, embraces the geographical limits of the District, and will also include the city of Alexandria, the defensive works south of the Potomac, from the Occoquan to Difficult creek, and the post of Fort Washington. “I enclose a list of the troops and of the defences embraced in these limits. “General Banks will command at Manassas Junction, with the divisions of Williams and Shields, composing the fifth corps, but you should, nevertheless, exercise vigilance in your front, carefully guard the approaches in that quarter, and maintain the duties of advanced guards. You will use the same precautions on either flank. “All troops not actually needed for the police of Washington and Georgetown, for the garrisons north of the Potomac, and for other indicated special duties, should be moved to the south side of the river. “In the centre of your front you should post the main body of your troops, and proper proportions at suitable distances towards your right and left flanks. Careful patrols will be made, in order thoroughly to scour the country in front, from right to left. “It is specially enjoined upon you to maintain the forts and their armaments in the best possible order, to look carefully to the instruction and discipline of their garrisons, as well as all other troops under your command, and, by frequent and rigid inspections, to insure the attainment of these ends. “The care of the railways, canals, depots, bridges and ferries, within the above-named limits, will devolve upon you, and you are to insure their security and provide for their protection by every means in your power. You will also protect the depots of the public stores and the transit of stores to troops in active service. “By means of patrols you will thoroughly scour the neighboring country