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Chapter 5: invasion of Virginia.

On the 24th of May the advance guard of the Federal army occupied the heights of Washington, with Arlington, the former home of General Lee, as headquarters, as well as all the country stretching down the Potomac eight miles below to Alexandria. Only a few persons understood the magnitude of the impending contest. The “Rebellion” many thought was to be crushed in ninety days, and most of the volunteer troops were enlisted by the North for that period.

One hundred and fifteen miles away, at Richmond, great activity prevailed also. The sagacity, skill, and experience of Lee were taxed to the uttermost equipping and sending to threatened points the troops rapidly arriving from the South. There was no regular army to serve as a nucleus, or navy, commissary, quartermaster's, or ordnance departments. Everything had to be provided. General Gorgas, the Chief of Ordnance of the Confederate States, reported that he found in all the arsenals of the Confederate States but fifteen thousand rifles and one hundred and twenty thousand inferior muskets. In addition there were a few old flint muskets at Richmond, and some Hall's rifles and carbines at Baton Rouge. There was no powder, except some which had been left over from the Mexican War and had been stored at Baton Rouge Arsenal and at Mount Vernon, Ala. There was but little artillery, and no cavalry, arms, or equipments. Raw recruits had to be drilled and disciplined, companies assigned to regiments, regiments to brigades, brigades to divisions. With the map of Virginia before him, Lee studied to make a successful defensive campaign. He knew that the object [100] of the greatest importance to his enemy was the capture of Richmond, and that the fall of that city early in the contest might terminate the war. His genius for grand tactics and strategy taught him at once that the most natural advance to Richmond from Washington would be along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, as it was called then. It was the only railway running into the State at that time from Washington, and troops moving along its line could be so directed as not to uncover their capital, while prompt facilities could be obtained for transportation of supplies from the base established at Alexandria or Washington. Another route lay up the peninsula lying between the James and York Rivers, with Fort Monroe and its vicinity as a base for operations. Another way to enter the State was by crossing the upper Potomac at Harper's Ferry and Williamsport, and then on through the great valley of Virginia between the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Mountains; and still another entrance might be effected through the mountain ranges of West Virginia. Norfolk, too, by the sea, had to be watched and protected. Troops, therefore, as fast as they arrived in Richmond and could be prepared for the campaign, were sent principally to these points. It was necessary that organized forces should be in such position as to check any forward movements by any of these routes. General Lee early had predicted the march of the Army of the Potomac, as the Washington army was called, and pointed out what would in all probability be the battlefield. He ordered the largest number of troops to Manassas Junction, that being the point of union of the railroad coming into Virginia from Washington with a branch road leading into the Valley of Virginia. It was a strategic point, because an army in position there would be able to resist the further progress of the opposing hosts, and could, if necessary, re-enforce the troops in the valley. Competent and experienced officers were at an early date placed in command of the important stations. For Manassas, General P. G. T. Beauregard was selected. This officer, having been the first employed in active operations, and having compelled the surrender of Fort Sumter, was the military hero of the [101] hour. He was a graduate of West Point, and had served in the Engineer Corps with marked distinction. His skill in that branch of the service was admirably displayed in the selection of positions for the batteries erected to defend Charleston Harbor, and his vigilance, activity, and military knowledge were rewarded by the prompt reduction of the fort. He assumed command of the troops at and in the vicinity of Manassas about the 1st of June, and possessed the entire confidence of his army.

Harper's Ferry received also the prompt attention of the Confederate authorities. To this important post General Joseph E. Johnston was ordered, superseding in the command there Colonel T. J. Jackson. General Johnston assumed command of the Army of the Shenandoah on May 23, 1861. He was a classmate of Lee's at West Point. On being graduated he was assigned to the artillery, and then to the topographical engineers. He became distinguished before his beard grew. In the Indian wars in Florida and in Mexico his coolness, address, soldierly bearing, daring deeds, and his many wounds made him famous. General Scott is reported to have said “Johnston is a great soldier, but was unfortunate enough to get shot in nearly every engagement.” In 1861 he was at the head of the Quartermaster's Department of the United States Army, with the rank of brigadier general. Upon the resignation of his commission he was commissioned a general officer in the Virginia service by Governor Letcher. Later he was given a brigadier general's commission in the Confederate service in the regular army, then the highest grade in it. The resignation of his commission and his decision to fight under the flag of the South was hailed with delight by the Southern people, who felt they were securing the services of an army commander of undoubted merit. General Benjamin Huger, another distinguished officer of the army of the United States, who had also resigned, was charged with watching over Norfolk. General John Bankhead Magruder, who had acquired distinction in the Federal army but had joined his fortunes to the South, was ordered to Yorktown to defend the peninsular route. General Holmes, [102] who had rendered conspicuous service in the army of the United States, was sent to command at Acquia Creek, some twelve miles east of Fredericksburg. Robert Garnett, also an officer of the United States Army, of-tested ability, was ordered to West Virginia to take charge of the department and of the forces assembling in that region. All of these officers had been selected with great care, and had been more or less distinguished in the army, but not one of them had ever before been in command of large numbers of men.

The regular army of the United States previous to 1861 was a small organization of fifteen thousand soldiers. Including the quartermaster general, there were only five general officers in it-Scott, Wool, Harney, Twiggs, and Joe Johnston. A few only of the officers, to whom was assigned on either side the command of armies, corps, and divisions, had ever previous to the war commanded a regiment, the great majority of them not more than one company.

In these operations of defense General Lee's whole time was employed. The larger number of troops were sent to Beauregard and Johnston, it being evident that one or both of the points occupied by their armies would be the scene of the earliest conflicts. His services were great and indispensable, but it can be readily seen that after supplying the threatened points with troops, and after providing commanding officers for the different armies when the battles of the war began, there would be no place for him in the field, but that the active operations there would be intrusted to others at first.

To Mrs. Lee, from Richmond, June 24, 1861, he wrote: “My movements are very uncertain, and I wish to take the field as soon as certain arrangements can be made. I may go at any moment to any point where it may be necessary. Custis is engaged on the works around this city, and many of our old friends are dropping in. E. P. Alexander is here. Jimmy Hill, Alston, Jenifer, etc., and I hear that my old colonel, A. S. Johnston, is crossing the plains from California.”

Preparations for the advance of the Federal army of the Potomac on Manassas were rapidly nearing completion. Everything needed was bountifully provided [103] from an overflowing Treasury. General Scott was still Commander in Chief of the United States Army, and still the possessor of the entire confidence of his country. Mr. Simon Cameron, Mr. Lincoln's Secretary of War, wrote to Mr. John Sherman, then in the field as a volunteer aid-de-camp to General Patterson, that the whole administration has but one safe course in this emergency, and that is to be guided by the counsels of the general in chief in all that relates to the plans, movements, and commands of the campaign. He has superior knowledge, wisdom, and patriotism over any other member of the administration, said Cameron, and enjoys the unlimited confidence of the people, as well as that of the President and his advisers.

The day after General Scott's last interview with General Lee he published General Order No. 3, which created the Department of Washington, embracing Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, and Major-General Robert Patterson, of Pennsylvania, was placed in command. On June 3, 1861, the headquarters of this officer were at Chambersburg, Pa., where he was busy organizing and equipping the army whose objective point was Harper's Ferry, at that time occupied by a small number of the Southern troops. It was General Scott's original plan to make Patterson fight the first great battle in the war, giving him all the troops he could possibly spare from the defense of Washington. It was his first purpose to make a feint on Beauregard at Manassas, while making a real attack upon Joe Johnston in the Valley of Virginia. With the defeat of Johnston the victorious army could march on Beauregard at Manassas, re-enforced by the troops around the Federal capital. Soldiers of high reputation and great merit were ordered to report to Patterson. Fitz John Porter was his adjutant general, Amos Beckwith commissary of subsistence, Crosman quartermaster, Sampson topographical engineer, Newton engineer; while such men as A. E. Burnside, George H. Thomas, Miles, Abercrombie, Cadwalader, Stone, and Negley commanded troops; and then, the laws being silent in the midst of arms, Senator John Sherman, of Ohio, was his aid-de-camp. From Patterson's [104] position two routes led to the Valley of Virginia, one via Frederick, Md., across the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, the other by Hagerstown, Md., crossing at Williamsport and thence to Martinsburg. Patterson wisely selected the latter route, because it was a flank movement on his enemy at Harper's Ferry, who could present no obstacle to a successful passage to the Potomac. He therefore marched his army to Hagerstown, where, on the 15th of June, he had ten thousand men. On that day General Johnston evacuated Harper's Ferry, and two days later, with a force of sixty-five hundred men, was at Bunker Hill, a point twelve miles from Winchester and between that city and Martinsburg.

This was wise on the part of Johnston. His intention to do so was accelerated from a well-authenticated rumor that had reached him of the advance of the Federal forces in the direction of Winchester from Romney, some forty--three miles west of that place. Indeed, he had detached two regiments under Colonels A. P. Hill and Gibbons, and sent them to Winchester with orders to proceed out on the road toward Romney for the purpose of checking any march of hostile troops from that direction. These troops were thought to be the advance of a force under General McClellan, which had been organized in that section of western Virginia. When Patterson crossed the Potomac Johnston very properly moved to Bunker Hill, so as to be in position to prevent the junction of McClellan and Patterson, by fighting a battle with Patterson before McClellan could reach Winchester, if indeed the force reported to be advancing from the direction of Romney were McClellan's troops. He soon became convinced that no considerable body of United States troops was approaching Winchester from the direction of Romney, and so the two regiments sent there were recalled to Winchester. If the action of Johnston had not been guided by the reports received, he would have evacuated Harper's Ferry at once upon the passage of the Potomac by Patterson. Harper's Ferry was not a defensible point. It was a cul-de-sac commanded thoroughly by Maryland Heights. Later in the war a large force of Federal troops was easily [105] forced to capitulate by a portion of the Confederate army approaching from the direction of Maryland.

Patterson commenced to cross the Potomac with the avowed purpose of fighting a battle with the army under Johnston, but when about two thirds of his troops had crossed he received a telegram from General Scott ordering him to send to Washington at once all the regular troops he had, horse and foot, as well as the Rhode Island regiment under Burnside, which was a very fine one. If this telegram had not been received, and Patterson had continued the march of his troops into Virginia, he would have reached Martinsburg on the 17th of June, and on the 18th could have attacked the Confederate troops then in line of battle awaiting him at Bunker Hill, eleven miles distant, and there might have been on the pages of American history a second battle of that name. The explanation of General Scott's telegram is to be found in the fact that he had changed his plan of offensive operations. He had reversed his former purposes and now proposed to fight the first battle with the army around Washington, while the army of Patterson should make the feint, to prevent a junction of Johnston's army with that of Beauregard's at Manassas. General Sanford, who commanded the State troops of New York, was the senior officer at that time on duty in Washington; and at two o'clock on the morning of May 21, 1861, with eleven thousand men first invaded Virginia and took possession of Arlington Heights and the adjacent section as far as Alexandria. The Department of Virginia was created, and General Irvin McDowell was selected by the Washington Cabinet to command it.

Up to that time it is said General Scott did not want anything done on the Virginia side of the Potomac except to fortify Arlington Heights. He was “piqued and irritated” that the Cabinet should have sent McDowell into Virginia, and sent him two messages by his aid-de-camp asking him to make a personal request not to be sent on the other side of the river, and took occasion to say to the Cabinet that he was never in favor of going over into Virginia. He did not believe in a little war by piecemeal, but he believed in a [106] war of large bodies. He was in favor of moving down the Mississippi River with eighty thousand men, fight all the battles that were necessary, take all the positions he could find and garrison them, fight a battle at New Orleans, win it, and thus end the war. His marvelous plan met with serious objections from the powers at Washington. Could it have been submitted to those in Richmond it would have been unanimously adopted.

Irvin McDowell, the commander selected to lead the Federal army against its opponent at Manassas, was a native of Ohio, and graduated at the Military Academy at West Point in 1838. He was assigned to the First Artillery, served in the Mexican War, and was brevetted major for gallant and meritorious conduct at Buena Vista. He was afterward transferred to the Adjutant General's Department, and served there till he was promoted brigadier general in 1861. At this period McDowell was about forty-three years of age, a capable soldier, and a gallant and courteous gentleman. He was kind-hearted, considerate, and tender of the feelings of others. His letter to Mrs. Lee, in reply to one received from her, addressed to the commander of the Federal forces at Arlington, has the ring of the pure metal, and is as follows:

headquarters, departments Northeastern Virginia, Arlington, May 30, 1861.
Mrs. R. E. Lee.
Madam: Having been ordered by the Government to relieve Major-General Sanford in command of this Department, I had the honor to receive this morning your letter of to-day addressed to him at this place. With respect to the occupation of Arlington by the United States troops I beg to say it has been done by my predecessor with every regard for the preservation of the place, I am here temporarily in camp on the grounds, preferring this to sleeping in the house under the circumstances which the painful state of the country places me with respect to these properties. I assure you it will be my earnest endeavor to have all things so ordered that on your return you will find things as little disturbed as possible. In this I have the hearty concurrence of the courteous, kind-hearted gentleman in the immediate command of the troops quartered here, and who lives in the lower part of the house to insure its being respected. Everything has been done as you desire with respect to your servants, and your wishes, so far as they have been known or could have been understood, [107] have been complied with. When you desire to return every facility will be given you for doing so. I trust, Madam, you will not consider it an intrusion when I say I have the most sincere sympathy for your distress, and, so far as compatible with my duty, I shall always be ready to do whatever may alleviate it. I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

Your most obedient servant, I. Mcdowell.
P. S.-I am informed it was the order of the general in chief if the troops on coming here should have found the family in the house, that no one should enter it, but that a guard should be placed for its protection.

Generals Scott and Lee were organizing their respective armies with the same celerity apparently, for on the 24th of June McDowell had twenty regiments of infantry, aggregating less than fourteen thousand men, two hundred and fifty cavalry, two batteries of light artillery, and three other batteries in the earthworks. His field return, dated June 26th, makes his aggregate forces sixteen thousand six hundred and eleven. At that time the Confederate army, under Beauregard, had nineteen regiments of infantry. The Federal commander estimated Beauregard's force at twenty thousand, and a statement upon which he said he relied, told him that the South Carolina regiments were the best armed and equipped, had negroes with them as servants, were in high spirits, and though the month was June, were freezing for a fight.

It was fully determined now that the Federal army should move against Manassas, and General McDowell was requested to submit a plan of operations and an estimate of the force necessary to carry it out. He did so, and the plan was approved by General Scott, the Cabinet, and Generals Sanford, Tyler, Mansfield, and Meigs, who were present. It was then given to the engineer officers to discuss, and finally was fully adopted. The Federal army was to move out from the vicinity of Washington and Alexandria in four columns and give battle to the enemy by turning their right flank. McDowell exacted two conditions: One that he should be provided with thirty thousand troops; the other that he should not be required to fight any of the Confederate forces then opposed to General Patterson in the Valley of Virginia. The first condition was pledged, [108] and he was told by General Scott that if Johnston joined Beauregard he should have Patterson at his heels.

General Lee had worked incessantly, leaving no stone unturned to give Beauregard a sufficient force to cope successfully with McDowell. He put away personal ambition, and had no thought except to do all in his power to enable others to win victories. From Richmond, July 12, 1861, he wrote Mrs. Lee: “You know that Rob has been made captain of Company A of the University. He has written for a sword and sash, which I have not yet been able to get for him. I shall send him a sword of mine, but can not procure him a sash. I am very anxious to get into the field, but am detained by matters beyond my control. I have never heard of the assignment to which you allude — of commander in chief of the Southern army-nor have I any expectation or wish for it. President Davis holds that position. I have been laboring to prepare and get into the field the Virginia troops to strengthen those from other States, and the threatened commands of Johnston, Beauregard, Huger, Garnett, etc. Where I shall go I do not know, as that will depend upon President Davis.”

The press on both sides, North and South alike, excited by the probability of a battle, began to severely criticise the delay in decisive movements. They did not understand that armies composed almost exclusively of citizen soldiers had to be organized with great care. Regiments had to be placed in brigades, and they in turn formed into divisions; ammunition, the means of subsistence, and the requisite amount of transportation had to be provided. General Lee resisted public clamor in his usual calm and dignified way. Mc-Dowell too, like a seasoned soldier, stood the pressure against him as long as he could, but at last it became so great he could wait no longer. So he issued General Order No. 17, dated Arlington Heights, July 16th, which started from camp and put on the march thousands of armed men, as a vast engine is put in motion by pressure on a button. Some thirty miles away, behind a small stream called Bull Run, Beauregard waited the arrival of McDowell. The two army commanders were classmates [109] at West Point, and had studied and marched side by side for four years. It was a strange sight to see them now manoeuvring hostile armies.

The capture of Washington should have been the legitimate military result of the Southern victory at Manassas. A great part of Beauregard's army had not fired a gun on the 21st; the brigades of Ewell, D. R. Jones, Longstreet, Bonham, and Holmes had been quietly resting all day, if we except a small skirmish by Jones. Ewell moved to the battlefield in the afternoon, but was not engaged. If these fresh troops had been led direct on Centreville by the roads crossing the fords they were guarding, they could easily have reached that point, four or five miles distant, before the fugitives of the Federal army, who for the most part were returning by the circuitous route over which they marched in the morning, and which was the only road they knew. The six thousand Federal reserve at Centreville, under Miles, certainly, in view of the demoralization of the rest of the army, could not have made a successful resistance. Bonham and Longstreet crossed Bull Run in pursuit, but were stopped by three regiments of General Blenker's brigade. Three hours and a half of daylight still remained.

The Confederates had nineteen companies of cavalry, McDowell seventeen. In neither army at that time was the employment of cavalry understood. It was not massed, but distributed around among the various infantry brigades where the troopers were principally used for couriers. If the whole of the Southern cavalry had been ordered forward under an enterprising soldier like Stuart, supported by the troops that had not been engaged, Centreville might have easily been reached that night. The next day, while Stuart was moving in the direction of Alexandria and Washington, with some of the freshest infantry as supports, the head of the Confederate army might have been turned toward White's Ford, on the upper Potomac, some twenty-five or thirty miles away. Patterson's army was disintegrating by the expiration of enlistments; Banks, his successor, had at Harper's Ferry about six thousand men and was fearing an attack. Dix, at Fort McHenry and [110] Baltimore, with a small force, was uncomfortable; and Butler, at Fort Monroe, was protesting against Scott's order to send to Washington his Illinois volunteers. All conditions were favorable to a march through Maryland by the Southern army, and either capture the Federal capital or occupy the strategic point at the junction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad with the Washington and Baltimore Railroad at the Relay House. Thousands of Marylanders whose sympathies were with the South would have increased the numbers of the Confederate army. Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia, and Howard and Montgomery counties in Maryland, were teeming with food for men and horses. Half a million rounds of ammunition for small arms had been captured. Gorgas, chief of ordnance, had many rounds also in Richmond, for on July 14th General Lee ordered him to send a full supply to General Wise in West Virginia. Besides ammunition, large quantities of muskets, pistols, knapsacks, swords, cannons, blankets, wagons, ambulances, hospital and subsistence stores, and camp and garrison equipment were captured.

On July 22, 1861, there were no troops in Baltimore with which any defense of that city could have been made. There were a few regiments for provost duty, but no available fighting force. Banks was ninety-five miles from Baltimore by the nearest road. White's Ford, on the Potomac, where Johnston and Beauregard could have crossed, is about forty-five miles from Baltimore. The occupation of the Relay House might have produced the immediate evacuation of Washington by the Federals, the transfer of the seat of war to Pennsylvania, the accession of Maryland to the Confederacy, and fifty thousand more men as recruits as fast as they could have been armed, for Baltimore would have clothed and equipped them. Next year, when the second battle of Manassas was fought, General Lee crossed the Potomac and entered Maryland without difficulty under much less favorable conditions. His inferiority of numbers to those of his antagonists were greater, and his ammunition, supplies, and transportation less in proportion to the strength of his army.

The extent of the Southern victory was not known [111] on that hot afternoon of July 21, 1861, because the pursuit had been feeble. Later in the evening, when the Federals were in full retreat, the report reached the Confederate commanders that a strong body of Union troops was advancing via Union Mills on Manassas, and orders were issued in consequence for the rapid march of some troops back to this position, infantry being mounted behind cavalry in order to get there at the earliest possible moment, and Beauregard started in that direction in person with the understanding that Johnston should send him re-enforcements.

The defeat of McDowell's army not being fully utilized by the Confederates caused the victory to be regarded by some at the South as unfortunate, for it was followed by a period of fancied security, while the opposite effect was produced at the North. So great was the confidence in the power to establish another republic on this continent that politicians at the South already began to plot for the Presidential succession. Beauregard was one of those named for office, and he wrote a letter to the public press, dated “within the hearing of the enemy's guns,” declaring that he was not a candidate. On the other hand, the day that Washington was crowded with fugitives from the Federal army the House of Representatives passed a resolution pledging to the country and to the world “the employment of every resource, national and individual, for the suppression and punishment of armed rebels.” While the South rested on the laurels of Manassas the North went vigorously to work to repair its fortunes. Congress authorized an army of half a million of men to be enlisted for three years, an increase of the navy, and a large loan.

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