- General Jackson proposes to resign. -- interference of Secretary Benjamin with the army. -- proposition to exchange prisoners. -- summoned to Richmond for conference. -- preparations for withdrawal from Manassas. -- Secretary Benjamin continues his interference with the discipline of the army. -- movement to the Rappahannock. -- orders to General Jackson. -- battle of Kernstown. -- army moved to the Rapidan. -- appointment of General Randolph Secretary of War. -- movements of General McClellan. -- another conference with the President. -- its result.
In the beginning of the year, General Jackson moved from Winchester with four brigades of infantry and a regiment of cavalry, to drive the Federal troops, then in the northern part of his district, across the Potomac. Their number being inconsiderable, he succeeded in ten days, without serious fighting. His men suffered very much, however, from cold, and hard marches. In the distribution of the troops of the district, agreed upon by General Jackson and myself, General Loring's three brigades were stationed near Romney, General Meem's brigade of militia at Martinsburg, General Carson's at Bath, and the militia regiments of Colonels Monroe, McDonald, Harness, and Johnson, occupied Moorfield, and different points on a curved line thence, in advance of Romney, to Bath. A week or two after these dispositions were completed, General Jackson received the following order  from Mr. Benjamin, acting Secretary of War: “Our news indicates that a movement is being made to cut off General Loring's command. Order him back to Winchester immediately.” After I had received from General Jackson information of this singular interference, it seemed to occur to Mr. Benjamin that his order should have been sent directly to me, for a copy came to my office then. General Jackson thought himself so much wronged, officially, by this procedure of the acting Secretary of War that, immediately after obeying the order, he sent me a letter addressed to that officer, for transmission to him, asking to be relieved of his command, either by restoration to his professorship in the Virginia Military Institute, or by the acceptance of the resignation of his commission in the Confederate army. I retained the letter, and wrote him this remonstrance:
My dear friend, I have just read, with profound regret, your letter to the Secretary of War, asking to be relieved from your present command, either by an order to the Virginia Military Institute, or the acceptance of your resignation. Let me beg you to reconsider this matter. Under ordinary circumstances, a due sense of one's own dignity, as well as care for professional character and official rights, would demand such a course as yours. But the character of this war, the great energy exhibited by the Government of the United States, the danger in which our very existence as an independent people lies, require sacrifices from us all who have been educated as soldiers. I receive my information of the order of which you have such cause to complain, from your letter. Is not that as great  an official wrong to me as the order itself to you Let us dispassionately reason with the Government on this subject of command, and, if we fail to influence its practice, then ask to be relieved from positions, the authority of which is exercised by the War Department, while the responsibilities are left to us. I have taken the liberty to detain your letter, to make this appeal to your patriotism, not merely from warm feelings of personal regard, but from the official opinion which makes me regard you as necessary to the service of the country in your present position.He agreed, ultimately, to remain in the army. I wrote to the President on this subject on the 5th:
I have just received from Major-General Jackson a copy of the letter of the Secretary of War to him, directing the evacuation of Romney, and withdrawal of our troops to Winchester. On a former occasion I ventured to appeal to your excellency against such exercise of military command by the Secretary of War. Permit me now to suggest the separation of the Valley district from my command, on the ground that it is necessary for the public interest. A collision of the authority of the Hon. Secretary of War with mine might occur at a critical moment; in such an event disaster would be inevitable. The responsibility of the command has been imposed upon me; your excellency's known sense of justice will not hold me to that responsibility while the corresponding control is not in my hands. Let me assure your excellency that I am  prompted in this matter by no love of privileges of position, or of official rights, as such, but by a firm belief that, under the circumstances, what I propose is necessary to the safety of our troops and cause.The suggestion made in this letter was not accepted. Early in the month the army lost Major-General Van Dorn, and in the latter part of it General Beauregard, who held the first place in the estimation of much the larger number of the troops; both were sent by the Government to the valley of the Mississippi. What was known in the army as the bounty and furlough law went into effect on the first day of the year. It was intended to encourage engagement in the service by those who had volunteered for but one year. Either from defects in the law itself, or faults in the manner in which it was administered, it had the effect of weakening the army by its immediate operation, without adding to its strength subsequently. Its numbers were greatly reduced before the end of the month by furloughs under the recent law, given directly by the acting Secretary of War. It was further weakened, and its discipline very much impaired, by Mr. Benjamin's daily interference in its administration and interior management. That officer was in the habit of granting leaves of absence, furloughs, and discharges, accepting resignations, and detailing soldiers to labor for contractors, or on nominal service, taking them out of the army upon applications made directly to himself, without the knowledge of the officers whose duty it was to look to the interests of the Government in such cases. He also granted indiscriminately to officers, private soldiers,  and civilians, authority to raise companies of cavalry and artillery, especially the latter, from our excellent infantry regiments, in some instances for merely local service. Although the artillery of the army already exceeded the European proportion, many additional batteries were thus authorized. Fortunately the Ordnance Department was unable to arm and equip them; otherwise the army would have been deprived of several regiments of excellent infantry, and encumbered with artillery that could not have been taken into battle without danger of capture, for want of infantry to protect it. In all this the Honorable Secretary did more mischief by impairing the discipline of the army than by reducing its numbers.1 My respectful remonstrances were written to him on the 1st, as follows:
Your letter of the 25th, in reply to mine of the 18th, did not reach me until yesterday. In entering upon the delicate and difficult work assigned to me, I shall keep in view your advice ‘to go to the extreme verge of prudence in tempting my twelve-months men, by liberal furloughs, to reenlist.’ It is, however, indispensable to the success of the undertaking, that you should remove certain difficulties which not only embarrass the execution of these particular orders, but are also causing great confusion and an approach to demoralization in the army. They result from a practice of giving orders to the army in matters of military detail which should only  come from the commanding officers present. It is impossible to specify in detail all these orders, as many of them are brought incidentally to my knowledge by the difficulties attending their execution. I allude especially to those granting furloughs, leaves of absence, discharges, and acceptances of resignations, made directly by yourself, without giving the officers concerned a hearing; detailing mechanics and other soldiers to labor for contractors; ordering troops into this department and from it without consulting me, or even informing me of the fact; and removing companies from point to point within it. Two of these companies were at Manassas-having been selected to man some heavy batteries there; they had become well instructed in that service, and, of course, were unpractised as infantry. The companies that take their places will for weeks be worthless as artillery, as they are as infantry. Our organization being incomplete, I am compelled thus to select troops for special service; and, if, as general, I cannot control such matters, our heavy guns are useless expense. The matters above mentioned are purely military, and, I respectfully submit, should be left under the control of military officers. I have been informed that you have already granted furloughs to four entire companies, but have received only one of the orders. They are, it is said, enlisted as artillery; we shall thus lose good infantry, and gain artillery having no other advantage over recruits than that of being inured to camp-life. This increases the difficulty of inducing reenlistment of infantry as such. You will perceive readily that, while you are granting furloughs on such a scale at  Richmond, I cannot safely grant them at all. To execute these orders consistently and advisedly, there must be a system; if the War Department continues to grant these furloughs without reference to the plan determined on here, confusion and disorganizing collisions must be the result. I have been greatly surprised to-day to receive an order from the War Office, detailing a private for a working-party here. I hazard nothing in saying that a Secretary of War never before, in time of war, made such a detail. In calling your attention to the mischiefs resulting from the orders alluded to above, I assure you I am making no point upon mere official propriety; they are practical evils which are weighing heavily upon this army. Officers, laboring under the impressions that I am in some way responsible for the changes they direct, complain that they are made without consulting their wishes, and in opposition to their plans. The discipline of the army cannot be maintained under such circumstances. The direct tendency of such orders is to insulate the commanding general from his army, to impair his authority with his troops, to diminish his moral as well as his official control over them, and to harass him with the constant fear that his most matured plans may be contravened by orders from the Government which it is impossible for him to anticipate. I respectfully request that you will forbear the exercise of your power upon these points. You have seen proper to intrust to ‘my skill and judgment,’ as you kindly express it, a work full of hazards and difficulties: may I not ask that you will extend your  confidence in me to those matters of minor detail which legitimately belong to my position? I appreciate fully the demands upon your attention by the great pressure upon all our lines of defense, which you so vividly present in your letter of the 25th ult. By leaving to me the exclusive control of the military arrangements appertaining to my command here, you will be relieved of much that must divert your mind from that general supervision which your exalted station requires. I have written, sir, in no spirit of captiousness, but with perfect frankness, in order to remove any causes of misunderstanding, and to secure concert of action between us. From all I can learn, the disposition to reinlist is not very general. I will do what I can to stimulate it into activity. Care must be taken, however, not to reduce the army to such an extent as to make its very feebleness the inducement to the enemy's attack.The Secretary took no notice of this letter, and in no degree abated his irregular course remonstrated against; and gave furloughs under the “bounty and furlough law” as lavishly as if he had not especially delegated its execution to me. About the end of January the Confederate Government desired the adoption of measures for the exchange of all prisoners taken by the armies of the belligerents, and the Secretary of War instructed me to propose to General McClellan the proper arrangements for that object. These instructions were obeyed on the 1st of February, by transmitting the following letter of that date to General McClellan, by the hands of  Lieutenant-Colonel Julian Harrison, of the Virginia cavalry, who was selected to bear it on account of the interest attaching to the subject, and its importance.
As this proposition was not entertained nor the letter noticed, the matter is introduced here only to show how early in the war the Confederate Government attempted to lessen the sufferings of prisoners of war by shortening their terms of confinement, and how little of that spirit was exhibited by the Federal Administration. When the Department of East Tennessee was constituted, Major-General E. Kirby Smith was selected  to command it. Many's, Bate's, and Vaughn's Tennessee regiments were transferred with him to that department. Major-General R. S. Ewell, just promoted, succeeded to the command of General E. K. Smith's division. Soon after the middle of this month, I was summoned to Richmond by the President, who wished to confer with me on a subject in which secrecy was so important that he could not venture, he said, to commit it to paper, and the mail. I arrived in Richmond on the 20th, early enough to reach the President's office two hours before noon. The cabinet was in session, and I was summoned into the room. The President explained that he had sent for me to discuss the question of withdrawing the army to a less exposed position. I replied that, although the withdrawal of the army from Centreville would be necessary before McClellan's invasion, which might be expected as soon as the country should be in condition for the marching of armies, it was impossible then, without much suffering by the troops, and great sacrifice of military property, including baggage. On that account, I thought the measure should be postponed until the end of the winter, and represented that the artillery-horses could not then draw field-pieces with their ammunition-chests, nor loaded caissons. This brought on a long discussion of the best mode of bringing off the guns of the Evansport batteries, which prolonged the conference until near sunset. It terminated without the giving of orders, but with the understanding on my part that the army was to fall back as soon as practicable.  The discussion was understood to be strictly confidential; yet, on reaching the hotel, going directly from the President's office, I was asked by Colonel Pender, Sixth North Carolina regiment, just arrived in the city on his way to the army, after leave of absence, if I had heard a report that he had found in that house, that the cabinet had been discussing that day the question of withdrawing the army from the line then occupied. On my way back to Centreville next day, I met an acquaintance from the county of Fauquier, too deaf to hear conversation not intended for his ear, who gave me the same information that he had heard, he said, the evening before. This extraordinary proof of the indiscretion of the members of the cabinet, or of some one of them, might have taught the danger of intrusting to that body any design the success of which depended upon secrecy. On the 22d orders were given to the chiefs of the quartermaster's and subsistence departments to remove the military property in the depots at Manassas Junction and its dependencies, to Gordonsville, as quickly as possible; and the president and superintendent of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad were requested to work it to its utmost capacity for that object. To expedite the operation, as well as for the probability of their being required near that point, Colonel Cole was instructed to have a portion of his stores deposited at Orange Court-House. A supply for ten days had been placed previously at Culpepper Court-House, for the contingency of the occupation of the line of the Rappahannock by the army.  An enormous quantity of military property had been accumulated at Manassas Junction, besides that of the Confederate Government in the hands of its officers of the quartermaster's and subsistence departments. There were large stores of provisions and clothing belonging to States, and under the charge of State agents; there was also such a quantity of baggage as no such army had ever before collected together. As the different regiments had been brought from their homes to Manassas Junction by railroad, the amount of their baggage had not been limited, consequently a trunk had come with each volunteer. The arrangements of the commissary department, made without reference to probable military operations, or the views of the commander of the army, added still more to the great quantity of public property depending on the troops for protection. Major R. G. Cole, 2 chief commissary of the army, had  endeavored, under my instructions, to limit the quantity of provisions in his storehouses to a supply for fifteen days--in weight about fifteen hundred thousand pounds. But the subsistence department, disregarding his repeated representations of my views, had collected there more than three million pounds. It had also located a meat-curing establishment for the Confederate armies at Thoroughfare Gap, on the Manassas Gap Railroad, without my knowledge. In this establishment there were more than two million pounds of meat, cured and in the process, besides large herds of cattle and hogs: so that the subsistence department, contrary to my expressed wishes and opinion, had encumbered the army with above five million pounds of its property, more than three hundred and fifty car-loads; while by my system there would have been about a million and a half pounds, a hundred car-loads, for removal. In the mean time the Secretary of War continued to pursue the course against which I had remonstrated on the 1st of February, to the great injury  of the army. I therefore asked the President's intervention, on the 1st of March, as follows:
I ask permission to call your attention to practices prevailing at the War Department, which are disorganizing in their effects upon this army, and destructive to its discipline. Orders of the War Department are received daily, granting leaves of absence and furloughs, and detailing soldiers for some service away from their companies, based upon applications made directly to the Hon. Secretary of War, without the knowledge of commanding officers, and in violation of the army regulations on this subject. The object of this wholesome rule, which was to give the Government the right to be heard through its officers, is defeated, the Department acting upon mere ex-parte statements. This is especially the case in reference to furloughs, their arrival being, usually, the first intimation of an application.... My object in writing to your excellency on this subject is, to invoke your protection of the discipline and organization of this army. My position makes me responsible for the former, but the corresponding authority has been taken from me. Let me urge its restoration. The course of the Secretary of War has not only impaired discipline, but deprived me of the influence in the army without which there can be little hope of success. I have respectfully remonstrated with the Hon. Secretary, but without securing his notice....His excellency's reply gave me reason to suppose that he would not interfere; for he assured me, in his answer to my appeal, that I had been imposed  upon by spurious orders; saying, in explanation: “The Secretary of War informs me that he has not granted leaves of absence or furloughs to soldiers of your command for a month past.” The adjutant-general, Major T. G. Rhett, to whom I read the letter on account of this statement, told me that a large package of the orders in question had been received by the mail in which that letter had come! Mr. Benjamin's removal from the War Department, soon after, implied that the President thought less poorly of my intelligence than the language of his letter indicated. In writing to the President on the 22d of February, I had requested him to have the assignment of officers of engineers expedited; such an assignment had been applied for early in the month. Captain Powhatan Robinson reported to me, with three or four lieutenants, in the first two or three days of March. He was directed, with his party, to examine the two roads leading from our camps to the Rappahannock near the railroad-bridge. He reported, on the 6th, that they were practicable, but made difficult by deep mud. On the 7th he was sent to the Rappahannock, to have the railroad-bridge made practicable for wagons. We had to regard four routes to Richmond as practicable for the Federal army: that chosen in the previous July; another east of the Potomac to the mouth of Potomac Creek, and thence by Fredericksburg; the third and fourth by water, the one to the Lower Rappahannock, the other to Fort Monroe; and from those points respectively by direct roads. As the Confederate troops in Virginia were disposed,  it seemed to me that invasion by the second route would be the most difficult to meet; for, as the march in Maryland would be covered by the Potomac, the Federal general might hope to conceal it from us until the passage of the river was begun, and so place himself at least two days march nearer to Richmond than the Army of Northern Virginia, on Bull Run. I did not doubt, therefore, that this route would be taken by General McClellan. The opinion was first suggested by the location of a division of the United States army3 on it, opposite to Dumfries. On the 5th, information from Brigadier-General Whiting, of unusual activity in the division opposite to him — that referred to above-suggested that the Federal army was about to take the field; so I determined to move to the position already prepared for such an emergency — the south bank of the Rappahannock-strengthened by field-works, and provided with a depot of food; for in it we should be better able to resist the Federal army advancing by Manassas, and near enough to Fredericksburg to meet the enemy there, should he take that route; as well as to unite with any Confederate forces that might be sent to oppose him should he move by the Lower Rappahannock or Fort Monroe. Brigadier-Generals Whiting and D. II. Hill were ordered to march on the morning of the 7th: the first from the Lower Occoquan and neighborhood of Dumfries, with his own, Wigfall's, and Hampton's brigades, to Fredericksburg, where Major-General Holmes was directed to concentrate his troops; and the second from Leesburg by Thoroughfare and  Warrenton to the south side of the Rappahannock. The troops near Centreville and Manassas Junction were directed to march on the morning of the 8th; Smith's and Longstreet's divisions and Pendleton's reserve artillery by the Turnpike — to the south side of the Rappahannock — by the bridge near the Warrenton Springs; and Ewell's and Early's (late Bonham's) to the south side of that river near the railroad-bridge-one part taking the road following the railroad, and the other that to the south of it, through Brentsville. In all cases artillery and wagons were to precede troops. It was found necessary to transport the ammunition-chests of the artillery-those of the caissons as well as of the pieces-by railroad. So much property was still remaining in the depots on the morning of the 8th, that the commanders of the divisions at Centreville and Bull Run were directed to keep their positions. They remained in them until the evening of the 9th, when they marched to rejoin their baggage — the trains having moved the day before. Much provision was left at Manassas, and salt meat at Thoroughfare. The country people were invited to divide this meat among themselves, as soon as Hill's brigade, in passing, had taken as much of it as it could transport. General Stuart occupied the line of Bull Run with the cavalry, during the night of the 9th, and at ten o'clock next morning set fire to the abandoned storehouses. Early on the 11th all the infantry and artillery crossed the Rappahannock. Ewell's and Early's divisions encamped near the river, on both sides of the railroad, and Smith and Longstreet  marched on to Culpepper Court-House, as no enemy appeared on the turnpike. The cavalry occupied Warrenton Junction, with pickets on Cedar Run and the turnpike. My headquarters were near the Rappahannock Station, but south of the river. The authors of Alfriend's “Life of Jefferson Davis” assert that “the destruction of valuable material, including an extensive meat-curing establishment containing large supplies of meat, and established by the Government, which ensued upon the evacuation of Manassas, elicited much exasperated censure.” The censure elicited by this “destruction” should have been directed at those who located the great meat-curing establishment of the Government on the frontier, instead of in the interior of the country; this, too, without the knowledge of the commander on that frontier; and who burdened the army, besides, with more than three millions of rations, when the general protested against a supply of more than fifteen hundred thousand pounds.4 Fifteen days (from the 23d of February to the 9th of March, inclusive) were devoted by the army to the work of removing the property in question, quite long enough to subordinate the operations of an army to the protection of commissary stores exposed against the wishes and remonstrances of the general. Orders to remove the enormous accumulation of public property were given by me at Manassas on the 22d. The work was begun next morning, and continued fifteen days. During that time I called the President's attention, five times, to unavoidable  delays in the preparations for our change of position, in the following passages of letters: February 22d: “.... The condition of the country is even worse than I described it to be, and rain is falling fast. I fear that field artillery near the Potomac cannot be removed soon.” .... February 23d: “In the present condition of the country, the orders you have given me cannot be executed promptly, if at all. Well-mounted officers from the neighborhood of Dumfries report that they could ride no faster than at the rate of twelve miles in six hours and a half.” .... February 25th: “. . ... They” (the roads) “are not now practicable for field artillery with our teams of four horses.... The accumulation of subsistence stores at Manassas is now a great evil. The commissary-general was requested, more than once, to suspend those supplies. A very extensive meat-packing establishment near Thoroughfare is also a great encumbrance. .... . The vast quantities of personal property in our camps is a still greater one. Much of both kinds of property must be sacrificed in the contemplated movement.” .... February 28th:
I regret to be unable to make a favorable report of the progress of our preparations to execute your plan. .... As I remarked to you orally,5 the measure must be attended with great sacrifice of property, and perhaps much suffering “.... March 3d:” Your orders for moving cannot be executed now, on account of the condition of roads and streams ... It is evident that a large quantity of it “(public property)” must be sacrificed.... In conversation with you,6  and before the cabinet, I did not exaggerate the difficulties of marching in that region. The sufferings and sickness that would be produced can hardly be exaggerated.These passages, written after the “falling back” of the army had been authorized in the consultation, indicate a strong disposition on my part to postpone it, on account of the difficulties and hardships of marching at that season. They proved, too, that the President was reminded of these difficulties when we were discussing the measure in his office, with his cabinet. After it had become evident that the Valley was to be invaded by an army too strong to be encountered by Jackson's division, that officer was instructed to endeavor to employ the invaders in the Valley, but without exposing himself to the danger of defeat, by keeping so near the enemy as to prevent him from making any considerable detachment to reenforce McClellan, but not so near that he might be compelled to fight. Under these instructions, when General Banks, approaching with a Federal force greatly superior to his own, was within four miles of Winchester, General Jackson7 fell back slowly before him to Strasburg — marching that distance, of eighteen miles, in two days. After remaining there undisturbed until the 16th, finding that the Federal army was again advancing, he fell back to Mount Jackson, twenty-four miles, his adversary halting at Strasburg. General Jackson's report, showing these relative  positions, made with his usual promptness, was received on the 19th, when I suggested to him that his distance from the Federal army was too great for the object in view. In the note acknowledging this, dispatched on the 21st, he wrote that he was about to move his headquarters to Woodstock, twelve miles from the enemy's camp; and at half-past 6 A. M., on the 23d, at Strasburg, he expressed the hope that he should be near Winchester that afternoon; and at ten o'clock that night he wrote, in his brief manner, that he attacked the Federal army at Kernstown at 4 P. M. and was repulsed by it at dusk. In his formal report, written on the 29th of April, he reported that his force on the field was three thousand and eighty-seven infantry, two hundred and ninety cavalry, and twenty-seven pieces of artillery. He estimated that of the enemy at eleven thousand. The Confederate loss was eighty killed, three hundred and forty-two wounded, and two hundred and thirty prisoners; he supposed that of the Federal army to have been three times as great. On the 24th and 25th he returned to Mount Jackson. In the Federal report of this action, General Shields's force is set down at seven thousand, and his loss at seven hundred and eighteen, that of the Confederate army at five hundred killed and a thousand wounded. After remaining seven days in the positions to which they had marched from Manassas, the troops crossed the Rapidan and encamped between Orange Court-House and the railroad-bridge. Ewell's division, however, was left in its position near the Rappahannock, with Stuart's cavalry, in observation of  a Federal division that had followed our march to Cedar Run, where it halted. The line of the Rappahannock had been taken temporarily, in preference to that of the Rapidan, be-. cause it is nearer Bull Run, and covered more of the country; the river being deeper, protected the troops better, and we wished to use the provision then in its rich valley, as well as to deprive the enemy of it. On the 18th it had become evident that the activity reported in Maryland, two weeks before, was connected with no advance of the enemy on the Fredericksburg route. This made the selection of one of the eastern routes by the Federal general seem to me more probable than I had before thought it. The army was, therefore, ordered to move to the south side of the Rapidan, where it was in better position to unite with the Confederate forces between Richmond and the invading army. Ewell's division and Stuart's brigade remained on the Rappahannock, in observation. Before the end of the month, General Randolph was appointed Secretary of War, which enabled the military officers to reestablish the discipline of the army; and the expiration of furloughs, and a draft of about thirty thousand Virginians, made by Governor Letcher, made it stronger in numbers than it had ever been before. From the 25th to the 29th of the month, our scouts, observing the Potomac, reported steam transports, loaded with Federal troops and military material, passing down the river continually. By their estimates of the number of men carried by each boat and their count of the number of trips, an army of one hundred and forty thousand men was conveyed  in this way to some point beyond the mouth of the Potomac, probably Fort Monroe, as no reports of such vessels entering the Rappahannock were received. Reports of the Adjutant-General of the United States Army, published subsequently, show that it amounted to one hundred and twenty-one thousand men, and two hundred and forty field-pieces; it was joined, not long after, by a division of twelve thousand men. The President was uncertain whether this army was destined for Fort Monroe, to invade Virginia by the peninsula, or for the invasion of North Carolina. I learned this at Gordonsville, where he summoned me to meet him to decide upon some measure of preparation for either event. The result was, an order to me to send two brigades to Richmond, to be held in reserve there under his direction. Brigadier-General John G. Walker's was sent from Fredericksburg, and that of Brigadier-General Wilcox from the Rapidan; neither was permitted to pause in Richmond, however, the first being sent on to join the Confederate forces in North Carolina, and the second to Magruder's army near Yorktown. Major-General Holmes having been assigned to the command of the Confederate forces in North Carolina, I transferred Major-General Smith to Fredericksburg, to command the troops there. Brigadier. General D. R. Jones was promoted to command Smith's division. When it was ascertained, about the 5th of April, that the Federal army was marching from Fort Monroe toward Yorktown, D. H. Hill's, D. R. Jones's, and Early's divisions, were transferred from the Army of  Northern Virginia to that of the Peninsula. The former was thus reduced to four divisions: Jackson's at Mount Jackson, Ewell's on the Rappahannock, Longstreet's at Orange Court-House, and G. W. Smith's at Fredericksburg. Before the 10th, the President was convinced, by Major-General Magruder's reports, that the entire army just brought down the Potomac from Alexandria, by General McClellan, was then on the Peninsula, to move upon Richmond by that route. He therefore directed me to make such defensive arrangements as might be necessary in the Department of Northern Virginia, and put my remaining troops in march for Richmond, and then to report to him for further instructions. In obedience to these orders, Major-General Ewell was left with his division and a regiment of cavalry, in observation on the Upper Rappahannock; and Major-General Longstreet was directed to march with his to Richmond. Major-General Jackson was left in the Valley to oppose greatly superior Federal forces, and authorized to call Ewell's division to his assistance in case of necessity; and General Ewell was instructed to comply with such a call. Major-General Smith was instructed to leave a mixed force, equal to a brigade, in front of Fredericksburg, and move towards Richmond with all his remaining troops. On reporting to the President, I was informed by him that my command was to be extended over the Departments of the Peninsula and Norfolk; and his excellency desired me to visit those departments immediately, to ascertain their military condition, before assuming the command.  I went to the Peninsula as soon as possible, reaching General Magruder's headquarters early in the morning; and passed the day in examining his works with the assistance of General Whiting, who accompanied me for the purpose, and in obtaining all the pertinent information General Magruder could give. That officer had estimated the importance of at least delaying the invaders until an army capable of coping with them could be formed; and opposed them with about a tenth of their number,8 on a line of which Yorktown, intrenched, made the left flank. This boldness imposed upon the Federal general, and made him halt to besiege instead of assailing the Confederate position. This resolute and judicious course on the part of General Magruder was of incalculable value. It saved Richmond, and gave the Confederate Government time to swell that officer's handful to an army. His defensive line was Warwick River, a tidewater branch of the James; a system of inundations along Warwick Creek, the stream of which the river is the estuary, extending to the bend in its course opposite to Yorktown, and a line of field-works just begun, to connect the inundations with the intrenchments of the village. Gloucester Point, on the north bank of York River, and directly opposite to Yorktown, was also intrenched. Water-batteries had been established at both places, to command the channel between them. General Magruder had placed his left there, because it is the only point where the river could be commanded by such guns as ours. Everywhere else it is about two miles  wide, there less than one. The works had been constructed under the direction of engineers without experience in war or engineering. They were then held by about thirty-five thousand men; but the Federal army threatening them amounted to a hundred and thirty-three thousand.9 This army was provided with an artillery proportionally formidable, including a hundred Parrott guns of the largest calibre, and at least thirty siege-mortars, besides a full proportion of field-batteries. Before nightfall I was convinced that we could do no more on the Peninsula than delay General McClellan's progress toward Richmond, and that, if he found our intrenchments too strong to be carried certainly and soon, he could pass around them by crossing York River. It seemed to me the more probable, however, that he would open York River to his vessels by demolishing our water-batteries, and passing us by water, unless tempted, by discovering the weakness of our unfinished works between Yorktown and the head of the inundations, to force his way through our line there. For these reasons I thought it of great importance that a different plan of operations should be adopted without delay; and, leaving General Magruder's headquarters at nightfall, I hastened back to Richmond to suggest such a one, and arrived next morning early enough to see the President in his office as soon as he entered it. After describing to him Magruder's position and the character of his defensive arrangements, I endeavored to show that, although they were the most judicious that that officer could have adopted when  he devised them, they would not enable us to defeat McClellan; and called his attention to the great length of the line compared to the number of troops occupying it; the still unfortified space between Yorktown and the head of the inundations; the fact that these inundations protected the Federal troops as well as the Confederate; the certainty that the Federal rifled cannon, mounted out of range of our obsolete “smooth-bore” guns, could destroy the batteries of Yorktown and Gloucester Point; and the very strong probability that General McClellan's plan was to open York River to his fleet by demolishing those batteries with his powerful artillery. That being done, we could not prevent him from turning our position, by transporting his army up the river and landing in our rear, or by going on to Richmond and taking possession there. Instead of only delaying the Federal army in its approach, I proposed that it should be encountered in front of Richmond by one quite as numerous, formed by uniting there all the available forces of the Confederacy in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, with those at Norfolk, on the Peninsula, and then near Richmond, including Smith's and Longstreet's divisions, which had arrived. The great army thus formed, surprising that of the United States by an attack when it was expecting to besiege Richmond, would be almost certain to win; and the enemy, defeated a hundred miles from Fort Monroe, their place of refuge, could scarcely escape destruction. Such a victory would decide not only the campaign, but the war, while the present plan could produce no decisive result.  The President, who had heard me with apparent interest, replied that the question was so important that he would hear it fully discussed before making his decision, and desired me to meet General Randolph (Secretary of War) and General Lee, in his office, at an appointed time, for the purpose; at my suggestion, he authorized me to invite Major-Generals Smith and Longstreet to the conference. I was confident of the support of the former, for at Fairfax Court-House and Centreville we had discussed the general question, and agreed that the Confederate Government ought to meet McClellan's invasion with all its available forces. In giving the invitation to General Smith, I explained to him the object of the conference, after which we agreed perfectly upon the course to be advocated. The conference began more than an hour before noon, by my describing,10 at the President's request, General Magruder's defensive arrangements, as I had done to him, and representing that General McClellan's probable design of molesting our batteries at Gloucester Point and Yorktown, and turning our position by transporting his army up the river, could not be prevented, so that the adoption of a new plan was necessary. Major-General Smith was then asked by the President to give his opinion, and suggested the course we had agreed upon: the assembling all the Confederate forces available for the purpose, near Richmond-Magruder's troops, and Huger's from Norfolk, to arrive among the last-and assail the Federal army when, following Magruder, it came within reach.  In the discussion that followed, General Randolph, who had been a naval officer, objected to the plan proposed, because it included at least the temporary abandonment of Norfolk, which would involve the probable loss of the materials for many vessels-of-war, contained in the navy-yard there. General Lee opposed it, because he thought that the withdrawal from South Carolina and Georgia of any considerable number of troops would expose the important seaports of Charleston and Savannah to the danger of capture. He thought, too, that the Peninsula had excellent fields of battle for a small army contending with a great one, and that we should for that reason make the contest with McClellan's army there. General Longstreet took little part, which I attributed to his deafness. I maintained that all to be accomplished, by any success attainable on the Peninsula, would be to delay the enemy two or three weeks in his march to Richmond, for the reasons already given; and that success would soon give us back every thing temporarily abandoned to achieve it, and would be decisive of the war, as well as of the campaign. At six o'clock the conference was adjourned by the President, to meet in his house at seven. The discussion was continued there, although languidly, until 1 A. M., when it ceased, and the President, who previously had expressed no opinion on the question, announced his decision in favor of General Lee's opinion, and directed that Smith's and Longstreet's divisions should join the Army of the Peninsula, and ordered me to go there and take command, the  Departments of Norfolk and the Peninsula being added to that of Northern Virginia. The belief that events on the Peninsula would soon compel the Confederate Government to adopt my method of opposing the Federal army, reconciled me somewhat to the necessity of obeying the President's order.