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[542] than to himself; and having once stopped for the purpose of reconstructing and reorganizing his army, it was incumbent upon him to finish that work before leading his troops into new combats.

It was Lee's interest to keep his opponent in this purely defensive attitude. By menacing Maryland, at least apparently, he satisfied public opinion in the South, which his retreat had exasperated; he both afforded relief to his army and lessened the burdens of the poorest sections of Virginia by subsisting on the resources of the rich valley of the Shenandoah; in short, he was approaching the bad season of the year, which would render any serious campaign against Richmond impossible. In order to detain McClellan on the banks of the Potomac, it was expedient to disturb and harass him. Stuart, who had already displayed his aptitude for leading an independent corps of cavalry before Richmond, was entrusted with this task.

A demonstration was made along the Upper Potomac for the purpose of diverting the attention of the Federals; they still occupied West Virginia, whither General Cox, who had been in command of the Ninth corps since the death of Reno, was then proceeding with considerable reinforcements. A long chain of posts, connecting this region with the positions occupied by McClellan, was especially intended to cover the Upper Potomac, and protect Maryland and Pennsylvania in that direction against the inroads of Confederate partisans; west of Hancock, which is the northernmost point of the course of the Potomac, their troops lined the right bank of the river in order to keep possession of the railroad which runs along that bank. Since the battle of Antietam these posts had been guarded by General Averill, who employed the largest portion of the Federal cavalry for that purpose. This cavalry had just been relieved by other detachments, and was occupying the Cumberland and Hancock road, when, on the 6th of October, it was ascertained that the enemy had shown himself in force in the valley of St. John's River, a small tributary of the right bank of the Potomac. Averill was immediately ordered to proceed toward this point in order to protect the railroad and the river crossings. This was precisely what the Confederates desired; and while their adversaries were thus detained above Hancock, Stuart was preparing to cross the river lower down.

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