- Maryland invaded -- McClellan not to command in the field -- Halleck declines advice about Harper's Ferry -- the North in danger -- McClellan assumes command -- the halter around his neck -- McClellan unrestrained -- marching, and reorganizing the army on the march -- Harper's Ferry lost -- McClellan relieves it, but miles surrenders -- Franklin's victory at Crampton's Gap.
Next day I rode to the front of Alexandria, and was engaged in rectifying the positions of the troops and giving orders necessary to secure the issuing of the necessary supplies, etc. On the 3d the enemy had disappeared from the front of Washington, and the information which I received induced me to believe that he intended to cross the upper Potomac into Maryland. This materially changed the aspect of affairs and enlarged the sphere of operations; for, in case of a crossing in force, an active campaign would be necessary to cover Baltimore, prevent the invasion of Pennsylvania, and clear Maryland. I therefore, on the 3d, ordered the 2d and 12th corps to Tennallytown, and the 9th corps to a point on the Seventh street road near Washington, and sent such cavalry as was available to the fords near Poolesville, to watch and impede the enemy in any attempt to cross in that vicinity. As soon as this was done I reported the fact to Gen. Halleck, who asked what general I had placed in command of those three corps. I replied that I had made no such detail, as I should take command in person if the enemy appeared in that direction. He then said that my command included only the defences of Washington, and did not extend to any active column that might be moved out beyond the line of works; that no decision had yet been made as to the commander of the active army. He repeated the same thing on more than one occasion before the final advance to South Mountain and Antietam took place. Before I went to the front Secretary Seward came to my  quarters one evening and asked my opinion of the condition of affairs at Harper's Ferry, remarking that he was not at ease on the subject. Harper's Ferry was not at that time in any sense under my control, but I told Mr. Seward that I regarded the arrangements there as exceedingly dangerous; that in my opinion the proper course was to abandon the position and unite the garrison (ten thousand men, about) to the main army of operations, for the reason that its presence at Harper's Ferry would not hinder the enemy from crossing the Potomac; that if we were unsuccessful in the approaching battle Harper's Ferry would be of no use to us, and its garrison necessarily lost; that if we were successful we would immediately recover the post without any difficulty, while the addition of 10,000 men to the active army would be an important factor in insuring success. I added that if it were determined to hold the position the existing arrangements were all wrong, as it would be easy for the enemy to surround and capture the garrison, and that the garrison ought, at least, to be withdrawn to the Maryland Heights, where they could resist attack until relieved. The secretary was much impressed by what I said, and asked me to accompany him to Gen. Halleck and repeat my statement to him. I acquiesced, and we went together to Gen. Halleck's quarters, where we found that he had retired for the night. But he received us in his bed-room, when, after a preliminary explanation by the secretary as to the interview being at his request, I said to Halleck precisely what I had stated to Mr. Seward. Halleck received my statement with ill-concealed contempt; said that everything was all right as it was; that my views were entirely erroneous, etc., and soon bowed us out, leaving matters at Harper's Ferry precisely as they were. On Sept. 5 the 2d and 12th corps were moved to Rockville, and Couch's division (the only one of the 4th corps that had been brought from the Peninsula) to Offutt's cross-roads. On the 6th the 1st and 9th corps were ordered to Leesburg; the 6th corps and Sykes's division of the 5th corps to Tennallytown. On the 7th the 6th corps was advanced to Rockville, to which place my headquarters were moved on the same day. All the necessary arrangements for the defence of the city under the new condition of things had been made, and Gen.  Banks was left in command, having received his instructions from me. As the time had now arrived for the army to advance, and I had received no orders to take command of it, but had been expressly told that the assignment of a commander had not been decided, I determined to solve the question for myself, and when I moved out from Washington with my staff and personal escort I left my card, with P. P. C. written upon it, at the White House, War Office, and Secretary Seward's house, and went on my way. I was afterwards accused of assuming command without authority, for nefarious purposes, and, in fact, fought the battles of South Mountain and Antietam with a halter around my neck; for if the Army of the Potomac had been defeated and I had survived I would, no doubt, have been tried for assuming authority without orders, and, in the state of feeling which so unjustly condemned the innocent and most meritorious Gen. F. J. Porter, I would probably have been condemned to death. I was fully aware of the risk I ran, but the path of duty was clear and I tried to follow it. It was absolutely necessary that Lee's army should be met, and, in the state of affairs I have briefly described, there could be no hesitation on my part as to doing it promptly. Very few in the Army of the Potomac doubted the favorable result of the next collision with the Confederate army, but in other quarters not a little doubt prevailed, and the desire for very rapid movements, so loudly expressed after the result was gained, did not make itself heard during the movements preceding the battles; quite the contrary was the case, as I was more than once cautioned that I was moving too rashly and exposing the capital to an attack from the Virginia side. As is well known, the result of Gen. Pope's operations had not been favorable, and when I finally resumed command of the troops in and around Washington they were weary, disheartened, their organization impaired, their clothing, ammunition, and supplies in a pitiable condition. The Army of the Potomac was thoroughly exhausted and depleted by its desperate fighting and severe marches in the unhealthy regions of the Chickahominy and afterwards during the second Bull Run campaign. Its trains, administration services, and supplies were disorganized or lacking, in consequence  of the rapidity and manner of its removal from the Peninsula, as well as from the nature of its operations during the second Bull Run campaign. In the departure from the Peninsula, trains, supplies, cavalry, and artillery were often necessarily left at Fort Monroe and Yorktown for lack of vessels, as the important point was to move the infantry divisions as rapidly as possible to the support of Gen. Pope. The divisions of the Army of Virginia were also exhausted and weakened, and their trains and supplies disorganized and deficient by the movements in which they had been engaged. Had Gen. Lee remained in front of Washington it would have been the part of wisdom to hold our own army quiet until its pressing wants were fully supplied, its organization restored, and its ranks filled with recruits — in brief, prepared for a campaign. But as the enemy maintained the offensive and crossed the upper Potomac to threaten or invade Pennsylvania, it became necessary to meet him at any cost, notwithstanding the condition of the troops; to put a stop to the invasion, save Baltimore and Washington, and throw him back across the Potomac. Nothing but sheer necessity justified the advance of the Army of the Potomac to South Mountain and Antietam in its then condition, and it is to the eternal honor of the brave men who composed it that under such adverse circumstances they gained those victories; for the work of supply and reorganization was continued 1  as best we might while on the march, and after the close of the battles so much remained to be done to place the army in condition for a campaign that the delay which ensued was absolutely unavoidable, and the army could not have entered upon a new campaign one day earlier than it did. The purpose of advancing from Washington was simply to meet the necessities of the moment by frustrating Lee's invasion of the Northern States, and, when that was accomplished, to push with the utmost rapidity the work of reorganization and supply, so that a new campaign might be promptly inaugurated with the army in condition to prosecute it to a successful termination without intermission. The advance from Washington was covered by the cavalry, under Gen. Pleasonton, pushed as far to the front as possible, and soon in constant contact with the enemy's cavalry, with whom several well-conducted and successful affairs occurred. Partly in order to move men freely and rapidly, partly in consequence of the lack of accurate information as to the exact position and intention of Lee's army, the troops advanced by three main roads that near the Potomac by Offutt's cross-roads and the mouth of the Seneca, that by Rockville to Frederick, and that by Brookeville and Urbana to New Market. We were then in condition to act according to the development of the enemy's plans, and to concentrate rapidly in any position. If Lee threatened our left flank by moving down the river road or by crossing the Potomac at any of the forks from Coon's Ferry upward, there were enough troops on the river road to hold him in check until the rest of the army could move over to support them; if Lee took up a position behind the Seneca near Frederick, the whole army could be rapidly concentrated in that direction to attack him in force; if he moved upon Baltimore the entire army could rapidly be thrown in his rear and his retreat cut off; if he moved by Gettysburg or Chambersburg upon York or Carlisle we were equally in position to throw ourselves in his rear. The first thing was to gain accurate information as to Lee's movements, and meanwhile to push the work of supply and reorganization as rapidly as possible. Gen. Lee and I knew each other well in the days before the war. We had served together in Mexico and commanded against  each other in the Peninsula. I had the highest respect for his ability as a commander, and knew that he was not a general to be trifled with or carelessly afforded an opportunity of striking a fatal blow. Each of us naturally regarded his own army as the better, but each entertained the highest respect for the endurance, courage, and fighting qualities of the opposing army; and this feeling extended to the officers and men. It was perfectly natural under these circumstances that both of us should exercise a certain amount of caution: I in my endeavors to ascertain Lee's strength, position, and intentions before I struck the final blow; he to abstain from any extended movements of invasion, and to hold his army well in hand until he could be satisfied as to the condition of the Army of the Potomac after its second Bull Run campaign, and as to the intentions of its commander. The right wing, consisting of the 1st and 9th corps, under the command of Maj.-Gen. Burnside, moved on Frederick; the 1st corps via Brookeville, Cooksville, and Ridgeville, and the 9th corps via Damascus and New Market. The 2d and 12th corps, forming the centre, under the command of Gen. Sumner, moved on Frederick; the former via Clarksburg and Urbana, the 12th corps on a lateral road between Urbana and New Market, thus maintaining the communication with the right wing and covering the direct road from Frederick to Washington. The 6th corps, under the command of Gen. Franklin, moved to Buckeystown via Darnestown, Dawsonville, and Barnesville, covering the road from the mouth of the Monocacy to Rockville, and being in a position to connect with and support the centre, should it have been necessary (as was supposed) to force the line of the Monocacy. Couch's division moved by the river road, covering that approach, watching the fords of the Potomac, and ultimately following and supporting the 6th corps. The following extracts from telegrams received by me after my departure from Washington will show how little was known there about the enemy's movements, and the fears which were entertained for the safety of the capital. On the 9th of Sept. Gen. Halleck telegraphed me as follows:
Until we can get better advices about the numbers of the enemy at Dranesville, I think we must be very cautious about  stripping too much the forts on the Virginia side. It may be the enemy's object to draw off the mass of our forces and then attempt to attack from the Virginia side of the Potomac. Think of this.Again, on the 11th of Sept., Gen. Halleck telegraphed me as follows:
Why not order forward Keyes or Sigel? I think the main force of the enemy is in your front. More troops can be spared from here.This despatch, as published by the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and furnished by the general-in-chief, reads as follows:
Why not order forward Porter's corps or Sigel's? If the main force of the enemy is in your front, more troops can be spared from here.I remark that the original despatch, as received by me from the telegraph operator, is in the words quoted above: “I think the main force of the enemy,” etc. In accordance with this suggestion I asked, on the same day, that all the troops that could be spared should at once be sent to reinforce me ; but none came. On the 12th I received the following telegram from his Excellency the President: “Governor Curtin telegraphs me: ‘I have advices that Jackson is crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, and probably the whole rebel army will be drawn from Maryland.’ ” The President adds: “Receiving nothing from Harper's Ferry or Martinsburg to-day, and positive information from Wheeling that the line is cut, corroborates the idea that the enemy is recrossing the Potomac. Please do not let him get off without being hurt.” On the 13th Gen. Halleck telegraphed as follows: “Until you know more certainly the enemy's force south of the Potomac you are wrong in thus uncovering the capital. I am of the opinion that the enemy will send a small column towards Pennsylvania to draw your forces in that direction, then suddenly move on Washington with the forces south of the Potomac and those he may cross over.” Again, on the 14th, Gen. Halleck telegraphed  me that “scouts report a large force still on the Virginia side of the Potomac. If so I fear you are exposing your left and rear.” Again, as late as the 16th, after we had the most positive evidence that Lee's entire army was in front of us, I received the following from him:
Yours of seven A. M. is this moment received. As you give me no information in regard to the position of your forces, except that at Sharpsburg, of course I cannot advise. I think, however, you will find that the whole force of the enemy in your front has crossed the river. I fear now more than ever that they will recross at Harper's Ferry or below, and turn your left, thus cutting you off from Washington. This has appeared to me to be a part of their plan, and hence my anxiety on the subject. A heavy rain might prevent it.The importance of moving with all due caution, so as not to uncover the national capital until the enemy's position and plans were developed, was, I believe, fully appreciated by me; and as my troops extended from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to the Potomac, with the extreme left flank moving along that stream, and with strong pickets left in rear to watch and guard all the available fords, I did not regard my left or rear as in any degree exposed. But it appears from the foregoing telegrams that the general-in-chief was of a different opinion, and that my movements were, in his judgment, too precipitate, not only for the safety of Washington, but also for the security of my left and rear. The precise nature of these daily injunctions against a precipitate advance may now be perceived. The general-in-chief, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, says:
In respect to Gen. McClellan going too fast, or too far from Washington, there can be found no such telegram from me to him. He has mistaken the meaning of the telegrams I sent him. I telegraphed him that he was going too far, not from Washington, but from the Potomac, leaving Gen. Lee the opportunity to come down the Potomac and get between him and Washington. I thought Gen. McClellan should keep more on the Potomac, and press forward his left rather than his right, so as the more readily to relieve Harper's Ferry.As I can find no telegram from the general-in-chief recommending  me to keep my left flank nearer the Potomac, I am compelled to believe that when he gave this testimony he had forgotten the purport of the telegrams above quoted, and had also ceased to remember the fact, well known to him at the time, that my left, from the time I left Washington, always rested on the Potomac, and that my centre was continually in position to reinforce the left or right, as occasion might require. Had I advanced my left flank along the Potomac more rapidly than the other columns marched upon the roads to the right, I should have thrown that flank out of supporting distance of the other troops and greatly exposed it; and if I had marched the entire army in one column along the banks of the river, instead of upon five different parallel roads, the column, with its trains, would have extended about fifty miles, and the enemy might have defeated the advance before the rear could have reached the scene of action. Moreover, such a movement would have uncovered the communications with Baltimore and Washington on our right, and exposed our left and rear. I presume it will be admitted by every military man that it was necessary to move the army in such order that it could at any time be concentrated for battle, and I am of opinion that this object could not have been accomplished in any other way than the one employed. Any other disposition of our forces would have subjected them to defeat in detached fragments. On the 10th of Sept. I received from my scouts information which rendered it quite probable that Gen. Lee's army was in the vicinity of Frederick, but whether his intention was to move towards Baltimore or Pennsylvania was not then known. On the 11th I ordered Gen. Burnside to push a strong reconnoissance across the National Road and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad towards New Market, and, if he learned that the enemy had moved towards Hagerstown, to press on rapidly to Frederick, keeping his troops constantly ready to meet the enemy in force. A corresponding movement of all the troops in the centre and on the left was ordered in the direction of Urbana and Poolesville. On the 12th a portion of the right wing entered Frederick, after a brisk skirmish at the outskirts of the city and in the streets. On the 13th the main bodies of the right wing and centre passed through Frederick.  In the report of a military commission, of which Maj.-Gen. D. Hunter was president, which convened at Washington for the purpose of investigating the conduct of certain officers in connection with the surrender of Harper's Ferry, I find the following:
The commission has remarked freely on Col. Miles, an old officer, who has been killed in the service of his country, and it cannot, from any motives of delicacy, refrain from censuring those in high command when it thinks such censure deserved. The general-in-chief has testified that Gen. McClellan, after having received orders to repel the enemy invading the State of Maryland, marched only six miles per day, on an average, when pursuing this invading enemy. The general-in-chief also testifies that, in his opinion, he could and should have relieved and protected Harper's Ferry; and in this opinion the commission fully concur.This commission, in its investigations, never called upon me, nor upon any officer of my staff, nor, so far as I know, upon any officer of the Army of the Potomac able to give an intelligent statement of the movements of that army. But another paragraph in the same report makes testimony from such sources quite superfluous. It is as follows:
By a reference to the evidence it will be seen that at the very moment Col. Ford abandoned Maryland Heights his little army was in reality relieved by Gens. Franklin's and Sumner's corps at Crampton's Gap, within seven miles of his position.The corps of Gens. Franklin and Sumner were a part of the army which I at that time had the honor to command, and they were acting under my orders at Crampton's Gap and elsewhere; and if, as the commission states, Col. Ford's “little army was in reality relieved” by those officers, it was relieved by me. I had, on the morning of the 10th, sent the following despatch in relation to the command at Harper's Ferry to Gen. Halleck:
To this I received the following reply from Gen. Halleck: 
There is no way for Col. Miles to join you at present; his only chance is to defend his works till you can open communication with him.It seems necessary, for a distinct understanding of this matter, to state that I was directed on the 12th to assume command of the garrison of Harper's Ferry as soon as I should open communications with that place, and that when I received this order all communication from the direction in which I was approaching was cut off. Up to that time, however, Col. Miles could, in my opinion, have marched his command into Pennsylvania by crossing the Potomac at Williamsport or above; and this opinion was confirmed by the fact that Col. Davis marched the cavalry part of Col. Miles's command from Harper's Ferry on the 14th, taking the main road to Hagerstown, and he encountered no enemy except a small picket near the mouth of the Antietam. Before I left Washington, and when there certainly could have been no enemy to prevent the withdrawal of the forces of Col. Miles, I recommended to the proper authorities that the garrison of Harper's Ferry should be withdrawn via Hagerstown, to aid in covering the Cumberland valley; or that, taking up the pontoon bridge and obstructing the railroad bridge, it should fall back to the Maryland Heights and there hold out to the last. In this position it ought to have maintained itself for many days. It was not deemed proper to adopt either of these suggestions; and when the matter was left to my discretion it was too late for me to do anything but endeavor to relieve the garrison. I accordingly directed artillery to be fired by our advance at frequent intervals as a signal that relief was at hand. This was done, and, as I afterwards learned, the reports of the cannon were distinctly heard at Harper's Ferry. It was confidently expected that Col. Miles would hold out until we had carried the mountain-passes and were in condition to send a detachment to his relief. The left was therefore ordered to move through Crampton's Pass in front of Burkittsville, while the centre and right marched upon Turner's Pass in front of Middletown. It may be asked, by those who are not acquainted with the topography of the country in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry, why  Franklin, instead of marching his column over the circuitous road from Jefferson via Burkittsville and Brownsville, was not ordered to move along the direct turnpike to Knoxville, and thence up the river to Harper's Ferry. It was for the reason that I had received information that the enemy were anticipating our approach in that direction, and had established batteries on the south side of the Potomac which commanded all the approaches to Knoxville. Moreover, the road from that point winds directly along the river-bank at the foot of a precipitous mountain, where there was no opportunity of forming in line of battle, and where the enemy could have placed batteries on both sides of the river to enfilade our narrow approaching columns. The approach through Crampton's Pass, which debouches into Pleasant Valley in rear of Maryland Heights, was the only one which afforded any reasonable prospect of carrying that formidable position; at the same time the troops upon that road were in better relation to the main body of our forces. On the morning of the 14th a verbal message reached me from Col. Miles, which was the first authentic intelligence I had received as to the condition of things at Harper's Ferry. The messenger informed me that on the preceding afternoon Maryland Heights had been abandoned by our troops after repelling an attack of the rebels, and that Col. Miles's entire force was concentrated at Harper's Ferry, the Maryland, Loudon, and Bolivar Heights having been abandoned by him and occupied by the enemy. The messenger also stated that there was no apparent reason for the abandonment of the Maryland Heights, and that Col. Miles instructed him to say that he could hold out with certainty two days longer. I directed him to make his way back, if possible, with the information that I was approaching rapidly and felt confident I could relieve the place. On the same afternoon I wrote the following letter to Col. Miles, and despatched three copies by three different couriers on different routes. I did not, however, learn that any of these men succeeded in reaching Harper's Ferry:
On the previous day I had sent Gen. Franklin the following instructions:
Again, on the 14th, I sent him the following:
Gen. Franklin pushed his corps rapidly forward towards Crampton's Pass, and at about twelve o'clock on the 14th arrived at Burkittsville, immediately in rear of which he found the enemy's infantry posted in force on both sides of the road, with artillery in strong positions to defend the approaches to the  pass. Slocum's division was formed upon the right of the road leading through the gap, and Smith's upon the left. A line formed of Bartlett's and Torbert's brigades, supported by Newton, whose activity was conspicuous, advanced steadily upon the enemy at a charge on the right. The enemy were driven from their position at the base of the mountain, where they were protected by a stone wall, steadily forced back up the slope until they reached the position of their battery on the road, well up the mountain. There they made a stand. They were, however, driven back, retiring their artillery in echelon, until, after an action of three hours, the crest was gained, and the enemy hastily fled down the mountain on the other side. On the left of the road Brooks's and Irvin's brigades, of Smith's division, formed for the protection of Slocum's flank, charged up the mountain in the same steady manner, driving the enemy before them until the crest was carried. 400 prisoners from seventeen different organizations, 700 stand of arms, 1 piece of artillery, and 3 colors were captured by our troops in this brilliant action. It was conducted by Gen. Franklin in all its details. These details are given in a report of Gen. Franklin, and due credit awarded to the gallant officers and men engaged. The loss in Gen. Franklin's corps was 115 killed, 416 wounded, and 2 missing. The enemy's loss was about the same. The enemy's position was such that our artillery could not be used with any effect. The close of the action found Gen. Franklin's advance in Pleasant Valley on the night of the 14th, within three and a half miles of the point on Maryland Heights where he might, on the same night or on the morning of the 15th, have formed a junction with the garrison of Harper's Ferry had it not been previously withdrawn from Maryland Heights, and within six miles of Harper's Ferry. On the night of the 14th the following despatch was sent to Gen. Franklin:
On the 15th the following were received from Gen. Franklin:
Col. Miles surrendered Harper's Ferry at eight A. M. on the 15th, as the cessation of the firing indicated, and Gen. Franklin was ordered to remain where he was, to watch the large force in front of him and protect our left and rear, until the night of the 16th, when he was ordered to join the main body of the army at Keedysville, after sending Couch's division to Maryland Heights. While the events which have just been described were taking place at Crampton's Gap, the troops of the centre and right wing, which had united at Frederick on the 13th, were engaged in the contest for the possession of Turner's Gap.