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[17]

My conversations with General Lee in Richmond, and the President's oral instructions to me in Montgomery, had informed me distinctly that they regarded Harper's Ferry as a natural fortress-commanding the entrance into the Valley of Virginia from Pennsylvania and Maryland-and that it was occupied in that idea, and my command not that of a military district and active army, but of a fortress and its garrison. Maps, and intelligent persons of the neighborhood, told me that the principal route into “the Valley” from Pennsylvania crosses the Potomac at Williamsport, and the railroad at Martinsburg, at least twenty miles west of this garrison, and of course beyond its control. 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. 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

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