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[209] skirmished with Banks' advance, offering him battle in front of Winchester, but when that was not accepted, reluctantly evacuating that historic town. Sending all his stores up the valley, he fell back to Strasburg, conforming his movements to those of Johnston, but, in the person of Ashby, his famous cavalry leader, constantly punishing every advance of his timid pursuer.

Reaching the conclusion that he had started on the wrong road to Richmond, McClellan, on the 13th of March, called his corps commanders together, at Fairfax Court House, and proposed another plan of advance on Richmond, which they joined in recommending to President Lincoln and which he reluctantly accepted. The commanding general proposed to move a grand and splendidly-appointed army of 120,000 men, by water, from Alexandria down the Potomac and the bay to Fortress Monroe, at the end of the peninsula of Virginia, and from that base of operation and supplies, to march up the peninsula between the James and the York, flanked by a strong naval force on each of these great tidal rivers, by the nearest roads, to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy as well as of Virginia. The defenses of Washington were to be held by some 18,000 men; some 7,000 were to occupy Manassas, that the railway thence to Strasburg might be reopened, and 35,000 were to help Banks look after Jackson in the Valley. The force that had followed Gen. Ed Johnson as he fell back from Alleghany mountain, and that in the South branch of the Potomac valley were soon to be combined, and thus 16,000 men placed in command of Fremont, in the Mountain department, to menace Jackson's left flank and rear, while the 8,000 under Cox, on the Kanawha line, as well as some Pennsylvania reserves, were ordered to Manassas. A grand total of more than 200,000 troops, of all arms, saying nothing of the large supporting naval force, thus began converging on Richmond from a great bordering sweep that extended northeastward along the mountain ranges that border the valley to the Potomac, then down that great tidal river to Chesapeake bay, Virginia's Mediterranean, and thence to the entrance of the grand harbor of Hampton Roads, the gateway to the mouth of the James, a great circle distance of fully 400 miles.

The shipment of McClellan's army from Washington to his new field of operations, began on the 17th of

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