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“Why not order forward Keyes or Sigel? I think the main force of the enemy is in your front; more troops can be spared from here."
This despatch, as published by the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and furnished by the general-in-chief, reads as follows:
“Why not order forward Porter's corps or Sigel's ? If the main force of the enemy is in your front, more troops can be spared from here."
I remark that the original despatch, as received by me from the telegraph operator, is in the words quoted above, “ I think the main force of the enemy,'
In accordance with this suggestion I asked, on the same day, that all the troops that could be spared should at once be sent to re-enforce me, but none came.
On the 12th I received the following telegram from his excellency the President: “Governor Curtin telegraphs me, 'I have advices that Jackson is crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, and probably the whole rebel army will be drawn from Maryland.'” The President adds: “Receiving nothing from Harper's Ferry or Martinsburg to-day, and positive information from Wheeling that the line is cut, corroborates the idea that the enemy is re-crossing the Potomac. Please do not let him get off without being hurt.”
On the 13th General Lalleck telegraphed as follows : “Until you know more certainly the enemy's force south of the Potomac, you are wrong in thus uncovering the capital. 'I am of the opinion that the enemy will send a small column towards Pennsylvania to draw your forces in that direction, then suddenly move on Washington with the forces south of the Potomac and those he may cross over.” Again, on the 14th, General Halleck telegraphed me that “scouts report a large force still on the Virginia side of the Potomac. If so, I fear you are exposing your left and rear."
Again, as late as the 16th, after we had the most positive evidence that Lee's entire army was in front of us, I received the following:
“ September 16, 1862—12.3 p. m. “Yours of 7 a. m. is this moment received. As you give me no information in regard to the position of your forces, except that at Sharpsburg, of course I cannot advise. I think, however, you will find that the whole force of the enemy in your front has crossed the river; I fear now more than ever that they will re-cross at Harper's Ferry, or below, and turn your left, thus cutting you off from Washington. This bas appeared to me to be a part of their plan, and hence my anxiety on the subject; a heavy rain might prevent it.
«H. W. HALLECK,
“ General -in-Chief. “ Major General McClellan.”
The importance of moving with all due caution, 80 as not to uncover the national capital until the enemy's position and plans were developed, was, I believe, fully appreciated by me; and as my troops extended from the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to the Potomac, with the extreme left flank moving along that stream, and with strong pickets left in rear to watch and guard all the available fords, I did not regard my left or rear as in any degree exposed. But it appears from the foregoing telegrams that the general-in-chief was of a different opinion, and that my movements were, in liis judgment, too precipitate, not only for the safety of Washington, but also for the security of my left and rear.
The precise nature of these daily injunctions against a precipitate advance may now be perceived. The general-in-chief, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, says: “In respect to General McClellan going
too fast or too slow from Washington, there can be found no such telegram from me to him. He had mistaken the meaning of the telegrams I sent him. I telegraphed him that he was going too far, not from Washington, but from the Potomac, leaving General Lee the opportunity to come down the Potomac and get between him and Washington. I thought General McClellan should keep more on the Potomac, and press forward his left rather than his right, so as the more readily to relieve Harper's Ferry.”
As I can find no telegram from the general-in-chief recommending me to keep my left flank nearer the Potomac, I am compelled to believe that when he gave this testimony he had forgotten the purport of the telegrams above quoted, and had also ceased to remember the fact, well known to him at the time, that my left, from the time I left Washington, always rested on the Potomac, and my centre was continually in position to re-enforce the left or right, as occasion might require. Had I advanced my left flank along the Potomac more rapidly than the other columns marched upon the roads to the right, I should have thrown that flank out of supporting distance of the other troops, and greatly exposed it. And if I had marched the entire army in one column along the bank of the river instead of upon five different parallel roads, the column, with its trains, would have extended about fifty miles, and the enemy might have defeated the advance before the rear could have reached the scene of action. Moreover, such a movement would have uncovered the communications with Baltimore and Washington on our right, and exposed our right and rear. I presume it will be admitted by every military man that it was necessary to move the army in such order that it could at any time be concentrated for battle; and I am of opinion that this object could not have been accomplished in any other way than the one employed. Any other disposition of our forces would have subjected them to defeat in detached fragments.
On the 10th of September I received from my scouts information which rendered it quite probable that General Lee's army was in the vicinity of Frederick, but whether his intention was to move towards Baltimore or Pennsylvania was not then known. On the 11th I ordered General Burnside to push a strong reconnoissance across the National road and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, towards New Market, and, if he learned that the enemy had moved towards Hagerstown, to press on rapidly to Frederick, keeping his troops constantly ready to meet the enemy in force. A corresponding movement of all the troops in the centre and on the left was ordered in the direction of Urbana and Poolsville.
On the 12th a portion of the right wing entered Frederick, after a brisk skirmish at the outskirts of the city and in the streets.
On the 13th the main bodies of the right wing and centre passed through Frederick It was soon ascertained that the main body of the enemy's forces had marched out of the city on the two previous days, taking the roads to Boonsboro' and Harper's Ferry, thereby rendering it necessary to force the passes through the Catoctin and South Mountain ridges, and gain possession of Boonsboro' and Rohrersville before any relief could be extended to Colonel Miles at Harper's Ferry.
On the 13th an order fell into my hands, issued by General Lee, which fully disclosed his plans, and I immediately gave orders for a rapid and vigorous forward movement.
The following is a copy of the order referred to:
"SPECIAL ORDERS No. 191.
“ 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 towards Sbarpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and, by Friday night, take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, 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 Loudon heights, if practicable, by Friday morning; Keys's 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, &c., 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, &c. “By command of General R. E. Lee.
“R. H. CHILTON,
“ Assistant Adjutant General. Major General D. H. Hill,
In the report of a military commission, of which Major General D. Hunter was president, which convened at Washington for the purpose of investigating the conduct of certain officers in connexion with the surrender of Harper's Ferry, I find the following:
“The commission has remarked freely on Colonel Miles, an old officer, who has been killed in the service of his country, and it cannot, from any motives of delicacy, refrain from censuring those in high command when it thinks such censure deserved.
“The general-in-chief has testified that General McClellan, after having received orders to repel the enemy invading the State of Maryland, marched only six miles per day, on an average, when pursuing this invading army.
“The general-in-chief also testifies that, in his opinion, he could and should have relieved and protected Harper's Ferry, and in this opinion the commission fully concur.”
I have been greatly surprised that this commission, in its investigations, never called upon me, nor upon any officer of my staff, nor, so far as I know, upon any officer of the army of the Potomac able to give an intelligent statement of the movements of that army. But another paragraph in the same report makes testimony from such sources quite superfluous. It is as follows:
“By a reference to the evidence it will be seen that, at the very moment Colonel Ford abandoned Maryland heights, his little army was in reality relieved by Generals Franklin's and Sumner's corps at Crampton's gap, within seven miles of his position.”
The corps of Generals Franklin and Sumner were a part of the army which I at that time had the honor to command, and they were acting under my orders at Crampton's gap and elsewhere; and if, as the commission states, Colonel Ford's “little army was in reality relieved” by those officers, it was relieved by me.
I had, on the morning of the 10th, sent the following despatch in relation to the command at Harper's Ferry:
“CAMP NEAR ROCKVILLE,
“ September 10, 1862–9.45 a. m. “Colonel Miles is at or near Harper's Ferry, as I understand, with nine thousand troops. He can do nothing where he is, but could be of great service if ordered to join me. I suggest that he be ordered to join me by the most practicable route.
“GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN,
“ Major General. “Major General Halleck,
“Washington, D. C.”.
To this I received the following reply: “ There is no way for Colonel Miles to join you at present; his only chance is to defend his works till you can open communication with him.
“H. W. HALLECK." “GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN, Major General."
It secins necessary, for a distinct understanding of this matter, to state that I was directed on the 12th to assume command of the garrison of Harper's Ferry as soon as I should open communications with that place, and that when I received this order all communication from the direction in which I was approaching was cut off. Up to that time, however, Colonel Miles could, in my opinion, have marched his command into Pennsylvania, by crossing the Potomac at Williamsport or above; and this opinion was confirmed by the fact that Colonel Davis marched the cavalry part of Colonel Miles's command from Harper's Ferry on the 14th, taking the main road to Hagerstown, and he encountered no enemy except a small picket near the mouth of the Antietam.
Before I left Washington, and when there certainly could have been no enemy to prevent the withdrawal of the forces of Colonel Miles, I recommended to the proper authorities that the garrison of Harper's Ferry should be withdrawn via Hagerstown, to aid in covering the Cumberland valley; or that, taking up the pontoon bridge and obstructing the railroad bridge, it should fall back to the Maryland heights, and there hold out to the last.
In this position it ought to have maintained itself for many days. It was not deemed proper to adopt either of these suggestions, and when the matter was left to my discretion it was too late for me to do anything but endeavor to relieve the garrison. I accordingly directed artillery to be fired by our advance at frequent intervals as a signal that relief was at hand. This was done, and, as I afterwards learned, the reports of the cannon were distinctly heard at Harper's Ferry. It was confidently expected that Colonel Miles would hold out until we had carried the mountain passes, and were in condition to send a de.
tachment to his relief. The left was therefore ordered to move through Crampton's pass in front of Burkettsville, while the centre and right marched upon Turner's pass in front of Middletown.
It may be asked by those who are not acquainted with the topography of the country in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry, why Franklin, instead of marching his column over the circuitous road from Jefferson via Burkettsville and Brownsville, was not ordered to move along the direct turnpike to Knoxville, and thence up the river to Harper's Ferry.
It was for the reason that I had received information that the enemy were anticipating our approach in that direction, and had established batteries on the south side of the Potomac which commanded all the approaches to Knoxville; moreover the road from that point winds directly along the river bank at the foot of a precipitous mountain, where there was no opportunity of forming in line of battle, and where the enemy could have placed batteries on both sides of the river to enfilade our narrow approaching columns.
The approach through Crampton's pass, which debouches into Pleasant valley in rear of Maryland heights, was the only one which afforded any reasonable prospect of carrying that formidable position ; at the same time, the troops upon that road were in better relation to the main body of our forces.
On the morning of the 14th a verbal message reached me from Colonel Miles, which was the first authentic intelligence I had received as to the condition of things at Harper's Ferry. The messenger informed me that on the preceding afternoon Maryland heights had been abandoned by our troops after repelling an attack of the rebels, and that Colonel Miles's entire force was concentrated at Harper's Ferry, the Maryland, Loudon, and Bolivar heights having been abandoned by him, and occupied by the enemy. The messenger also stated that there was no apparent reason for the abandonment of the Maryland heights, and that Colonel Miles instructed him to say that he could hold out with certainty two days longer.
I directed him to make his way back, if possible, with the information that I was approaching rapidly, and felt confident I could relieve the place.
On the same afternoon I wrote the following letter to Colonel Miles, and despatched three copies by three different couriers on different routes. I did not, however, learn that any of these men succeeded in reaching Harper's Ferry:
“MIDDLETOWN, September 14, 1862. “Colonel : The army is being rapidly concentrated here. We are now attacking the pass on the Hagerstown road over the Blue ridge. A column is about attacking the Burkettsville and Boonsboro' pass. You may count on our making every effort to relieve you. You may rely upon my speedily accomplishing that object. Hold out to the last extremity. If it is possible, reoccupy the Maryland heights with your whole force. If you can do that, I will certainly be able to relieve you. As the Catoctin valley is in our possession, you can safely cross the river at Berlin or its vicinity, so far as opposition on this side of the river is concerned. Hold out to the last.
“GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN,
“ Major General Commanding. “ Colonel D. S. Miles.”
On the previous day I had sent General Franklin the following instructions:
« HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
“ Camp near Frederick, September 13, 1862–6.20 p. m. “GENERAL: I have now full information as to movements and intentions of the enemy. Jackson has crossed the upper Potomac to capture the garrison at Martinsburg and cut off Miles's retreat towards the west. A di