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Stonewall Jackson's intentions at Harper's Ferry.

I. By Bradley T. Johnson, Brigadier-General, C. S. A.

Major--General J. G. Walker, in his interesting paper in “The century” [June, 1886], states that after he had occupied Loudoun Heights on September 14th, he received a dispatch from General Jackson, by signal, substantially as follows: “Harper's Ferry is now completely invested. I shall summon its commander to surrender. Should he refuse, I will give him twenty-four hours to remove the non-combatants, and then carry the place by assault. Do not fire unless forced to.” [See p. 609.]

Referring to the statement made by me in an address before the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, October 23d, 1884, that on the 14th of September General Jackson signaled the order to both McLaws and Walker, “Fire at such positions of the enemy as will be most effective,” General Walker says: “I am, of course, ignorant of what Jackson may have signaled McLaws, but it is certain I received no such order.” General Walker then goes on to show that Jackson determined to give the commanding officer of Harper's Ferry twenty-four hours before he carried the place; that he, General Walker, was satisfied that the delay of twenty-four hours would be fatal to General Lee,--as it would have been; that, therefore, against orders not to fire until he was forced to, he determined to be forced; and that he secured this end by the display of two North Carolina regiments, under Colonel M. W. Ransom, in line of battle on Loudoun Heights, in full view of the Federal batteries on Bolivar Heights. As he expected, he says, “they at once opened a heavy but harmless fire upon my regiments, which afforded me the wished — for pretext. Withdrawing the infantry to the safe side of the mountain, I directed my batteries to reply.”

Thus it would appear that General Walker forced the attack on Harper's Ferry, and prevented the delay of twenty-four hours which General Jackson proposed to give; and that to this prompt attack was due the capture of Harper's Ferry, and the salvation of that part of the Army of Northern Virginia which, with Lee, Longstreet, and D. H. Hill, was waiting at Sharpsburg the reduction of the force at the former place, and the reinforcement of Lee by Jackson, McLaws, and Walker after Harper's Ferry had fallen. Twenty-four hours delay would have postponed the fall of Harper's Ferry, and the battle of the 17th would have been fought by Longstreet and D. H. Hill alone, who would have been destroyed by McClellan before Jackson could have come up.

I prepared the address before the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia after careful study of the records and reports of both sides, and all accessible accounts of the battle of Sharpsburg, and believe every statement made by me can be substantiated by the record, or by the statements of eye-witnesses. Unless General Walker has a copy of the dispatch referred to by him, I respectfully submit that his recollection is in error; that no intention was ever entertained by Jackson of giving twenty-four hours delay; and that General Jackson himself gave the order to Walker and McLaws to open fire, exactly as stated by me.

The reasons for believing that General.Walker is mistaken in thinking that he ever received the order referred to by him, or one in any way intimating an intention of giving twenty-four hours [616] delay, seem to me to be conclusive. Colonel H. Kyd Douglas was aide-de-camp to Jackson, and occupied, particularly in that campaign, peculiarly confidential relations to him. His home was near Sharpsburg and Shepherdstown, the scene of operations, and he probably knew as much of General Jackson's intentions as any man living. He tells me he never heard of any such projected delay. The “lost order” No. 191--from General Lee to Jackson, Walker, and McLaws — specially directs Walker and McLaws to be in position on Loudoun. and Maryland Heights respectively by Friday morning, September 12th, and Jackson to take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad by Friday morning and “intercept such of the enemy as may attempt to escape from Harper's Ferry.” Jackson's advance division reached the vicinity of Harper's Ferry during Saturday forenoon, the 13th; Walker and McLaws reached the designated points Saturday night, but were not in position for offensive action until September 14th.

Now, when the army was moving to the positions assigned by “Special orders no. 191,” it was a matter of common knowledge that McClellan's advance was in contact with our rear. Hampton had a sharp affair in the streets of Frederick late on the 12th. Fitz Lee, hanging on to the advance, located McClellan and reported his presence to Stuart, who held the mountain pass over Catoctin at Hagan's. During the 13th Stuart delayed the advance of the Federal infantry through Middletown Valley by sturdily defending the practicable points on the National road.

On the 14th, when, according to General Walker, Jackson, then a day late, proposed to give the commander of Harper's Ferry twenty-four hours delay, and General Walker, in order to prevent that delay, drew the fire of the Federal guns on him on Loudoun Heights, Franklin's corps attacked Crampton's Gap about noon, and after a sharp defense drove Munford through the mountain pass. Now Crampton's Gap is in full sight of Loudoun Heights, not four miles off as the crow flies, and is in rear of McLaws's position on Maryland Heights. Jackson then knew that McClellan was thundering in his rear. Walker and McLaws could see the battle and hear the guns at Crampton's, and Walker could also see the fight at South Mountain.

It would have been contrary to every known characteristic of the chief of the “Foot cavalry” for him to have given his adversary twenty-four hours breathing-time, under any circumstances, anywhere, and utterly impossible for him to have done so under these circumstances at this time.

General Jackson did send General Walker an order by signal: “I do not desire any of the batteries to open until all are ready on both sides of the river, except you should find it necessary, of which you must judge for yourself. I will let you know when to open all the batteries.”

In the War Records office may be seen the report of Captain J. L. Bartlett, signal officer of Jackson's corps. It contains the order to Walker and McLaws quoted by me in my address: “Fire at such positions of the enemy as will be most effective.” This order General Walker does not recollect to have received. It certainly was sent by Captain Bartlett to Walker's signal officer, and just as certainly received by the latter. It is hardly possible that so important an order, at such a time, should not have been forwarded by the signal officer to General Walker. The following order was also sent from Captain Bartlett's signal-station to General Walker's officer on Loudoun Heights:

Special Orders headquarters Valley District, No.--September 14, 1862.
1. To-day Major-General McLaws will attack so as to sweep with his artillery the ground occupied by the enemy, take his batteries in reverse, and otherwise operate against him as circumstances may justify.

2. Brigadier-General Walker will take in reverse the battery on the turnpike, and also sweep with his artillery the ground occupied by the enemy, and silence the battery on the island in the Shenandoah, should he find a battery there.

3. Major-General A. P. Hill will move along the left bank of the Shenandoah, and thus turn the enemy's left flank and enter Harper's Ferry.

4. Brigadier-General Lawton will move along the turnpike for the purpose of supporting General Hill and otherwise operating against the enemy on the left of General Hill.

5. Brigadier-General Jones will, with one of his brigades and a battery of artillery, make a demonstration against the enemy's right; the remaining part of his division will constitute the reserve and move along the turnpike.

By order of Major-General Jackson:

William L. Jackson, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

Captain Bartlett, after reporting all messages and orders sent through his station, among which were the foregoing, says, “If any other dispatches or orders were sent at Harper's Ferry, it was done at other posts than mine.”

Now, there was no signal officer except Captain Bartlett attached to Jackson's headquarters, communicating with Loudoun Heights, and his report thus shows all the orders sent by Jackson to Walker. The one quoted by General Walker is not among them; the one quoted by me is. Therefore, inasmuch as it appears that the investing force under Jackson was twenty-four hours behind the time fixed by General Lee for completing the investment of Harper's Ferry, and that Generals Jackson and McLaws knew that McClellan had been in Frederick mon the 12th, only twenty miles off; and that McClellan was actually attacking at Crampton's, three or four miles from Harper's Ferry; and that Lee, Longstreet, and D. H. Hill were then north of the Potomac, and in imminent danger of being cut off from the rest of the army at Harper's Ferry; and that General Jackson did, in fact, send the order, cited by me, to Walker and McLaws to fire at such positions of the enemy as would be most effective, and did, in fact, as soon as his troops were in position, completing the investment, issue an order of battle for the assault on Harper's Ferry: taking all these facts into consideration, we must believe that General Walker is mistaken as to the order he thinks he received, and that General Jackson never issued such order, nor entertained the idea of delaying the attack.


II. by Henry Kyd Douglas, Colonel, C. S. A.

In his article in “The century” for June, 1885, on “Harper's Ferry and Sharpsburg,” General John G. Walker said, in substance, that General Jackson, after Harper's Ferry was invested, informed him that he intended to summon the Federal commander to surrender, and, should he refuse, then to give him twenty-four hours to remove the noncombatants before making an assault; but that he, General Walker, being better advised as to the movements of General McClellan, became impatient of the delay, and by a piece of mild strategy forced the assault, and thereby hastened the surrender of Harper's Ferry, saved Jackson from being “compromised,” and Lee from being driven into the Potomac. [See pp. 604-611.]

With the help of such notes as I have, confirming my recollection, and the official reports corroborating them, I will briefly examine General Walker's statement.

I think I may safely assume that General Jackson, being in immediate communication, by signal, with General McLaws (who was in contact with the enemy), and with General Lee both by signal through McLaws and by a constant line of couriers, knew at least as much about the movements of General McClellan and the situation of the rest of our army as General Walker, on Loudoun Heights, could possibly know.

Jackson reached Harper's Ferry on Saturday, September 13th, and immediately shut up his side of the pen. McLaws and Walker were not yet in position, their delay being doubtless unavoidable. Let us see whether Jackson was in danger of compromising himself by want of activity. The next day at 7:20 A. M., in anticipation that McLaws and Walker would soon be ready, he sent to McLaws a characteristic letter of instructions. As will appear, a copy of this letter was doubtless sent to Walker, and will help to explain one of the errors into which he has fallen. That letter looks to quick work. But although Jackson was ready, there were obstacles in the way of immediate action. General Jackson says that, separated by the Potomac and Shenandoah from McLaws and Walker, he resorted to signals, “and that before the necessary orders were thus transmitted the day was far advanced.” General A. P. Hill says, in effect, that it was afternoon before the signals from Maryland and Loudoun Heights notified Jackson that “all was ready,” and then Jackson ordered him against the enemy. General McLaws says the morning of the 14th was occupied cutting a road for artillery, and that by 2 P. M. he had four pieces in position on Maryland Heights. General Walker says that at half-past 10 he succeeded in notifying Jackson that he was ready, and Captain Bartlett, the signal officer of Jackson, reports to the same effect. Jackson then ordered Walker to “wait” for McLaws. Every one at headquarters knew how impatient General Jackson was at the unavoidable loss of time. He had written the McLaws letter very early in the morning, and in further preparation for prompt and decisive action he dictated to Colonel Jackson his “special order” for the attack, and as soon as it was practicable issued it. It speaks for itself. He also issued his joint order to McLaws and Walker--“Fire at such positions of the enemy as will be most effective.” Walker opened fire about 1 P. M.--whether shortly before or shortly after this joint order does not appear, and is of little importance. McLaws began about 2 P. M. He says Walker and Jackson were both at it before him. Hill moved promptly, and did enough of work that afternoon and night, as he says, “to seal the fate of Harper's Ferry,” with the assistance of McLaws and Walker. At 3 o'clock the next morning I was sent by General Jackson to direct the movement of Jones's division at first dawn, and at daylight everybody was in action, and Harper's Ferry speedily surrendered. In energy, Jackson at Harper's Ferry simply paralleled himself; he could do no more. “Let the work be done thoroughly,” he had said to McLaws; and it was.

Was General Jackson pushed to this activity by General Walker, and would he otherwise have given Colonel Miles twenty-four hours to remove non-combatants before assault, and thus have imperiled General Lee beyond hope? I will treat this question soberly, as becomes the gravity of General Walker's statement and his regard for General Jackson's reputation. But, as the matter now presents itself, I will submit the reasons for thinking General Walker is mistaken in regard to the dispatch he says he received from General Jackson respecting the twenty-four hours delay. It is known now that Jackson never did summon the enemy to surrender, and in his report he makes no mention of such a purpose. I find in my notes this item in regard to the 14th: “It was late in the afternoon when McLaws was ready for action — too late to effect anything on that day. Preparations were made for an assault early the next morning. I am not aware that General Jackson made any demand for the surrender of the garrison.” There is nothing in the reports of Hill, McLaws, Jones, or Walker, touching the matter of a contemplated demand for surrender, or any delay by reason thereof. Captain Bartlett's report as signal officer — the only one known to have sent signal dispatches between Jackson and Walker — contains no such order as the one quoted by General Walker. If such a message had been sent to Walker, it would, of course, have been sent also to Hill and McLaws, and they make no mention of it. It could not have gone to McLaws except through Bartlett, and he surely would have made a note of it. General Walker says it was after Jackson was informed that McLaws was in possession of Maryland Heights that the dispatch was sent to him. This was not earlier than 2 P. M., and before that time Walker had opened fire, and Jackson had issued the joint order, “Fire,” etc., and had followed it up with his specific “special order,” prepared beforehand. In fact, General Jackson knew the urgency of the situation better than General Walker, and it is simply incredible that he contemplated a delay of twenty-four hours [618] for any purpose. General Walker must be mistaken. It does not follow, however, that he has no ground for his mistake. I have said that the substance of Jackson's early letter to McLaws must have been sent to Walker. That letter looks to an attack by Walker on an island battery in the Shenandoah, and during the morning a dispatch to Jackson from Loudoun Heights says: “Walker can't get position to bear on island,”--showing that Walker had in some way been instructed with regard to it. (It would seem that Jackson's “special order” must have been prepared in the morning and before the receipt of the dispatch from Walker, for in it he gives instructions to Walker touching that island battery.) In the McLaws letter, Jackson speaks of a flag of truce to get out non-combatants should the enemy not surrender; but the spirit of that letter is against any delay. I remember the question of a demand for surrender was vaguely talked of at headquarters by the staff. It is likely they got the idea from the McLaws letter, for I never heard the general [Jackson] say anything on the subject, and every indication was against any delay in making the assault. I merely throw out the suggestion to account for the error of memory into which I think General Walker has fallen. Whatever purpose General Jackson at first had to demand a surrender or to consider non-combatants, his ruling anxiety was for the speedy fall of Harper's Ferry. It maybe that a little reflection satisfied him, after writing the McLaws letter, that the citizens of the town would be in little danger from the firing of McLaws and Walker at the enemy on Bolivar Heights, and that he dismissed that consideration from his mind. If this humane purpose ever took definite shape in his intentions, there was never any occasion to execute it, and it would now be of little consequence had not General Walker attempted to give it such strange form and significance.

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