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[39] General Schenck had withheld any orders during Friday and Saturday, while the telegraph was in operation. Was it not reasonable for me to suppose that General Hooker would intercept the march of Lee's army, or that General Schenck would in some way provide for relieving me? No one could have anticipated, as I certainly did not, that Lee's army could have escaped the army of the Potomac, and penetrated the Shenandoah valley as far as Winchester, without timely notice of it being given to me through General Schenck at Baltimore. It is in proof that my small force of cavalry was most actively and industriously engaged in reconnoitring; but it was impossible for them to push their reconnoissances beyond the Blue Ridge, and they had no suspicion of the presence of any other enemy but those under Imboden, Jones, and Jenkins, whom they had long watched and thwarted in the valley.

Under these circumstances, I deemed it wise and prudent to await the developments of Sunday, the fourteenth. If I should not during that day receive orders, or be relieved, I knew that the enemy would be compelled to reveal his purposes, and in some measure to mass his forces, so that I could then best determine how and when to cut my way through his lines. Accordingly, on Sunday night, after the enemy had massed his forces, and made an attack from the west, a council of war was held by my order; and it was therein resolved that the Martinsburgh road, being commanded by the guns of the forts, and being apparently open, offered the best route for a retreat upon Harper's Ferry, and that it was indispensable for the safety of the command to evacuate the place during the night, or in the early morning. But the enemy's pickets were within two hundred yards of our lines; and in order to escape without his notice, it was necessary to abandon the guns and wagons, which could not have been brought away, without so much noise in descending the rocky hills from the forts as to defeat the indispensable purpose of secrecy. The precautions adopted by the council of war were successful. We eluded the enemy, who surrounded us on three sides, and marched four and a half miles before encountering any of his forces. Then, after a sharp engagement of one hour, we succeeded in passing the enemy, and most of my forces escaped.

A single view of the situation will make the matter too clear for a moment's doubt.

On Friday, I had the plain, clear, direct, and positive order of General Schenck, commanding me to remain at Winchester, and await further orders. There was no known change of circumstances, after I received that order, until Saturday afternoon, when the prisoner was taken. But at that time the Third brigade, under a signal given in the morning, was on the march to Winchester, and reached that place at ten o'clock at night. They had then marched thirty miles on Saturday, and required all Saturday night for rest and refreshment. I could not have left Winchester, at the earliest possible date, till Sunday morning, and then it would have been improper to do so by daylight. I waited, therefore, till Sunday night, and then called a council of war. We left at two in the morning of Monday; and as we left in darkness, so we had to do so in quietness, as the one was as essential as the other to effect our escape. We, therefore, left every thing that went on wheels. Weighed against the lives of my brave men, they were less than nothing.

I do not suppose it necessary to defend the act of finally retreating from Winchester, although I had no orders to do so. It is now apparent to all men, that the alternative was between retreating or remaining to surrender. The only matter upon which there can be any inquiry, is as to the manner of the retreat — the energy, the watchfulness, the skill and success with which it was conducted. The severe fighting of Sunday, vigorously maintained through the whole day, had checked, if not crippled the enemy, and had doubtless served to mislead him as to my designs. He fully expected to find me in Winchester on Monday morning. Having succeeded in making this impression upon him, and thus allayed his suspicions as well as his vigilance, that time was the most favorable that could possibly have been selected for the retreat. No skill or precaution on my part, however, could have enabled me to evade the enemy where we met him on Monday morning. He was posted in a position to command both roads, at the point where the one leading to Summit Point diverges from the Martinsburgh road. Here we fought him until we heard a signal gun in the direction of Winchester, and two sections of the enemy's artillery, on the road from that place, were seen in hot pursuit of us. I then ordered the march to be continued, and the larger part of my forces went in different directions from the field of battle.

The result of this engagement would have been far different if my orders had been obeyed, or my example followed. When the retreat commenced, we anticipated the attack from the rear. But as soon as I heard the firing in front, I hastened to the scene of action. In passing along the line I found Colonel McReynolds some distance in advance of his brigade, and ordered him to return and hurry up his forces to the front. It was not my intention to continue the engagement longer than was necessary to enable all my forces to pass away. While I was actively engaged in front, I sent back no less than three different orders for the Third brigade to come up; but neither of my aids could find Colonel McReynolds on the field, nor any part of his command, except the First New-York cavalry. In consequence of this failure — waiting for the Third brigade to come up — I held my forces in the fight longer, and lost more men of the First and Second brigades than would have been necessary, if my orders had been promptly obeyed. The regiments of the Third brigade were separated, and though they were not in the engagement, they lost as many as the other brigades, and escaped by different routes from the scene of this action. Whatever irregularities and losses

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Robert C. Schenck (4)
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W. H. F. Lee (2)
G. W. Jones (1)
Albert G. Jenkins (1)
J. D. Imboden (1)
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