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Doc. 169. General Patterson's defence.

The First Troop of Philadelphia (Pa.) City Cavalry dined together on Saturday, November 16th, at the Continental Hotel, to commemorate their foundation in 1775. Captain James presided, and Dr. Goddard, as Surgeon of the Troop, acted as vice-president. Among the guests were Major-Generals Patterson and Cadwalader. The dinner was altogether a delightful one. When the cloth was removed, the health of Major-General Patterson was proposed by Lieutenant A. K. Arnold, attached to the United States Cavalry, who was with the General during the whole campaign on the Potomac, and in response to an enthusiastic call, he made a speech. He returned thanks for the compliment paid him, and for the manner in which it had been received. He said that he was not in the habit of giving reasons for any thing he did or did not do, but in the presence of men of so much intelligence as the members of the First City Troop, a part of his command in the short campaign in the valley of Virginia, he considered it due to them as well as to himself to give a short statement of facts.

During the latter part of July, all August, and part of September, there was no slander against him so gross that it could not be asserted and reiterated with impunity and swallowed with avidity. The gentlemen of the Troop knew how false these slanders were. He had submitted to them in quiet, although he had the documents in his possession to prove that he did all that he was ordered to do, and more than any one had a right to expect under the circumstances in which he and his command were placed, and he defied any man, high or low, to put his finger on an order disobeyed.

The gentlemen of the Troop were witnesses of what was done, and he asserted what they knew to be true, that the column was well conducted. There was not a false step made, nor a blunder committed. The skirmishers were always in front, and the flanks well protected. They were caught in no trap, and fell into no ambuscade. They repeatedly offered the enemy battle, and when they accepted it they beat them. There was no defeat and no retreat with his column.

It might be asked, “Why have you not made this statement sooner?” Because the publication of the documents sooner would have been most detrimental to the public interests. He preferred bearing the odium so liberally bestowed on him, rather than clear himself at the expense of the cause in which we were all engaged. The time had arrived when the matter could, without injury to the service, be inquired into; and he was determined that it should be done, and that before long all the documents referred to should be published and spread before the American people, unless those whose duty it was to do so should in the mean time do him justice. [393]

He would state a few facts. On the 3d of June he took command at Chambersburg. On the 4th he was informed by the General-in-Chief that he considered the addition to his force of a battery of artillery and some regular infantry indispensable. On the 8th of June, a letter of instructions was sent him, in which he was told that there must be no reverse; a check or a drawn battle would be a victory to the enemy, filling his heart with joy, his ranks with men, and his magazines with voluntary contributions; and, therefore, to take his measures circumspectly, and attempt nothing without a clear prospect of success. This was good instruction and most sensible advice. Good or bad, he was to obey; and he did.

On Friday, the 13th, he was informed that, on the supposition that he would cross the river on the next Monday or Tuesday, Gen McDowell would be instructed to make a demonstration on Manassas Junction. He was surprised at the order, but promptly obeyed. On the 15th he reached Hagerstown, and, on the 16th, two-thirds of his forces had crossed the Potomac. The promised demonstration by Gen. McDowell, in the direction of Manassas Junction, was not made; and on the 16th, just three days after he had been told he was expected to cross, he was telegraphed by the General-in-Chief to send him “at once all the regular troops, horse and foot, and the Rhode Island Regiment and Battery,” and told that he was strong enough without the regulars, and to keep within limits until he could satisfy him that he ought to go beyond them. On the 17th he was again telegraphed, “We are pressed here. Send the troops I have twice called for, without delay.” This was imperative, and the troops were sent, leaving him without a single piece of artillery, and for the time, a single troop of cavalry. It was a gloomy night, but they were all brought over the river again without loss.

On the 20th of June he was asked by the General-in-Chief to propose, without delay, a plan of operations. On the 21st he submitted to the General-in-Chief his plan, which was to abandon the present line of operations, move all supplies to Frederick, occupy Maryland Heights with Major Doubleday's heavy guns, and a brigade of infantry to support them, and with every thing else — horse, foot and artillery — to cross the Potomac at Point of Rocks, and unite with Colonel Stone's force at Leesburg, from which point he could operate as circumstances should demand, and as the General's orders should require. No reply was received; but on the 27th, the General telegraphed him that he supposed he was that day crossing the river in pursuit of the enemy.

On that day the enemy was in condition to cross the river in his pursuit. He had over fifteen thousand men and from twenty to twenty-four guns. General Patterson had about ten thousand men and six guns, the latter immovable for want of harness. On the 28th he informed the General of the strength of the enemy, and of his own force; that he would not, on his own responsibility, attack without artillery, but would do so cheerfully and promptly, if he would give him an explicit order to that effect. No order was given. On the 29th he received the harness for his single battery of six smooth-bore guns, and on the 30th gave the order to cross. On the 2d of July he crossed, met the enemy, and whipped them.

On the 9th of July a council was held, at which all the commanders of divisions and brigades, and chiefs of staff, were present. Col. Stone, the junior line officer, spoke twice and decidedly against an advance, advocating a direct movement to Sheppardstown and Charlestown. All who spoke opposed an advance, and all voted against one. On the same day, he informed the General-in-Chief of the condition of affairs in the valley, and proposed that he should go to Charlestown and occupy Harper's Ferry, and asked to be informed when he would attack Manassas. On the 12th he was directed to go where he had proposed, and informed that Manassas would be attacked on Tuesday, the 16th. On the 13th he was telegraphed: “If not strong enough to beat the enemy early next week, make demonstrations so as to detain him in the valley of Winchester.” He made the demonstrations, and on the 16th, the day General Scott said he would attack Manassas, he drove the enemy's pickets into his intrenchments at Winchester, and on the 17th marched to Charleston.

On the 13th he telegraphed the General-in-Chief that Johnston was in a position to have his strength doubled just as he could reach him, and that he would rather lose the chance of accomplishing something brilliant than by hazarding his column, to destroy the fruits of the campaign by defeat, closing his telegram thus: “If wrong, let me be instructed.” But no instructions came. This was eight days before the battle of Manassas. On the 17th, General Scott telegraphed: “McDowell's first day's work has driven the enemy beyond Fairfax Court House. To-morrow the Junction will probably be carried.” With this information he was happy. Johnston had been detained the appointed time, and the work of General Patterson's column had been done.

On the 18th, at half-past 1 in the morning, he telegraphed General Scott the condition of the enemy's force and of his own, referring to his letter of the 16th for full information, and closed the despatch by asking, “Shall I attack?” This was plain English, and could not be misunderstood, but he received no reply. He expected to be attacked where he was, and if Manassas was not to be attacked on that day, as stated in General Scott's despatch of the day previous, he ought to have been ordered down forthwith to join in the battle, and the attack delayed until he came. He could have been there on the day the battle was fought, and his assistance might have produced a different result. [394]

On the 20th he heard that Johnston had marched with thirty-five thousand Confederate troops, and a large artillery force, in a southeasterly direction. He immediately telegraphed the information to General Scott, and knew that he received it the same day. In accordance with instructions he came to Harper's Ferry on the 21st, which place he held until relieved.

General Patterson, during the course of his remarks, was repeatedly applauded, and closed amid repeated cheers.

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