- The defence of Washington -- growth of an army -- foresight of the magnitude of the war -- Memorandum to the President -- letter to Secretary Cameron.
Reference to any good man will show that Washington is situated on the point of confluence of the main Potomac with the Anacostia, or eastern branch thereof. The ground occupied by the city is low, though by no means flat, and is commanded from all directions by heights within the easy range of even modern field-artillery. Moral and political considerations alike rendered it necessary to retain the seat of government in Washington, although its situation was the most unfavorable that could be conceived under the circumstances of the case. So far as military operations were concerned, it would have been well could the capital have been removed to New York; but this was impossible. The defence of the capital, containing, as it did, the executive and legislative, the archives of the government, the public buildings, the honor and prestige of the nation, and, as time moved on, vast amounts of military supplies, was a matter of vital importance, and it was necessary to protect it not only from capture, but also against insult. To accomplish this without fortifications would have required an army of great strength, so large as to detract fatally from the efficiency of the active armies. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary to resort to fortifications, and circumstances required that they should be of a temporary nature. As I have already stated, I found the capital entirely defenceless, and at once determined upon the system to be pursued. During the months of August and September the work of organization and fortification proceeded as rapidly as circumstances permitted. Naturally there were frequent reports as to the movements of the enemy in advance; sometimes of intended  crossings below Alexandria, sometimes above the city. In the early part of August, when we were so entirely open to attack, these reports gave me no little uneasiness. And even after we had reached a point of comparative security, so far as the safety of Washington was concerned, the probable effects of an inroad in any form into Maryland rendered it necessary to be constantly on the alert and take every precaution to prevent a crossing of the river. As soon as Gen. Banks came under my command, Aug. 20, 1861, I directed him to cross to the eastern bank of the Monocacy, leaving one regiment to observe the Potomac above Harper's Ferry, and another to watch it from the latter place to the mouth of the Monocacy, and to put his main body not far from Hyattstown; thus placing him in position to oppose any attempt at crossing the river above Harper's Ferry, while his junction with the force at Washington would be secure of the enemy's crossing below the Monocacy. In his former position, at Sandy Hook, he was too far from Washington. He was ordered to move his surplus and heavy stores from Frederick to Baltimore or Washington, and his surplus transportation to the latter place; to oppose any passage of the Potomac by the enemy, provided it would not involve his separation from the main army; also to support Stone when necessary, and, if forced back by superior numbers, to retreat on Rockville. He was also instructed to protect the railroad as well as practicable without making too heavy detachments. Up to this period, and until about the beginning of September, there was reason to apprehend some attack of the enemy; at all events, reports to that effect frequently arrived, and we were not for some time in condition to offer successful resistance. It must never be forgotten that at this period the spirit of secession was active and bitter in many parts of Maryland. Baltimore had given too full proof of the feeling of a large part of its inhabitants of all classes; in the northern and western counties there were many secessionists, though the Union party was also strong; but in the southern and southeastern counties the Union people were very few. In this condition of affairs, with our communications and lines of supply all passing through Maryland, it was too dangerous to even allow small portions of the enemy to cross the river, and it was therefore  necessary to employ much larger numbers of troops on the frontier, on the line of communication, and in observation through the State than would have been the case if Pennsylvania, for example, had been the frontier State. Before the middle of August Gen. Smith's pickets were thrown across the river at the Chain Bridge. On the 3d of Sept., while reviewing troops east of the Capitol, I received despatches to the effect that the enemy had appeared in force opposite the Chain Bridge and towards Great Falls; also that they were probably on the point of advancing along their whole line. After giving the necessary orders at other points I rode to Gen. Smith's headquarters at the Chain Bridge, and determined to move his brigade across the river during the night and to entrench a position on the Virginia side as the surest method of saving the bridge. I ordered up King's brigade and a battery to support him, and directed the cavalry and reserve artillery and other troops in the city to be held in readiness to move up if necessary. McCall was also ordered to send an additional regiment and two more guns to Great Falls, and to hold the rest of his command in readiness to move either towards Great Falls or the Chain Bridge, as circumstances might require. Early during the night Smith crossed and at once commenced the construction of Forts Maury and Ethan Allen--positions which I had already examined. On the 28th of Sept. Smith's division marched out to Falls Church, which movement, in connection with an advance of a part of Franklin's division on the Leesburg pike, of McDowell's on Ball's cross-roads and Upton's Hill, and of Porter's on Hall's Hill, determined the evacuation of Munson's, Upton's, and Taylor's hills by the enemy's outposts, who had now seen the last of Washington until Early's raid in 1864. Taylor's, Perkins's, Upton's, and Munson's hills were occupied by a brigade of McDowell's division, who at once commenced work upon the necessary fortifications. The occupation of this point was of great importance, as it gave ample room in rear for moving the troops in any direction, and, in the event of my deciding to attack Centreville, would enable me to reach that place in one march from the outposts. Immediately after the occupation of this new position the camp of Porter's division was moved forward to Hall's and Munson's hills, in easy supporting distance;  a few days later Smith's division was moved to Marshall's Hill. To support this movement McCall's division was, on the 9th of Oct., brought to the Virginia side to Langley's, and a few days later to Prospect Hill. He was replaced at Tennallytown by a brigade of Buell's division. On the 5th of Oct. Heintzelman's division was formed, and posted at Fort Lyon, south of Alexandria, forming the left of our line on the Virginia side. During the months of September and October Sickles's brigade, posted on the south side of the eastern branch, sent frequent reconnoissances into lower Maryland. Early in November Hooker's division was organized and moved to the vicinity of Budd's Ferry to observe the enemy, who were active in that direction, and to prevent, as far as possible, the crossing of the river by emissaries of the enemy. So that early in November the positions of the command were as follows: On the right McCall's division at Prospect Hill; Smith's division at Mackall's Hill, holding Lewinsville by an advanced guard; Porter's division at Minor's and Hall's hills; McDowell at Arlington, with one brigade at Munson's Hill, etc.; Blenker's division at Hunter's Chapel; Franklin at the Theological Seminary; Heintzelman at Fort Lyon. There were thus on the Virginia side seven divisions, so posted as to cover every avenue of approach, and able to afford assistance to every point that could be attacked, and, moreover, in position to advance on Centreville if necessary. On the north of Washington, Buell's division held Tennallytown and the other important points (supported by Casey's provisional brigades), the reserve artillery and the cavalry depots; while Stone's division at Poolesville, and Banks's division at Darnestown, observed the upper river and were in position to retire upon Washington if attacked by superior forces. Hooker was in the vicinity of Budd's Ferry. By the 30th of Sept. several of the principal works were pretty well advanced, but a great deal still remained to be done to complete the system. I shall refer elsewhere to the inconveniences resulting from the position of Washington and the nature of the frontier formed by the Potomac; in this place it will suffice to say that as the Potomac is often fordable, and many of the inhabitants on the  Maryland side were favorable to the enemy, it was a very necessary and difficult task to guard it properly. In view of its exposed position and immense political importance it was impossible to allow Washington to be endangered; so that a garrison was always necessary, and all that could be done was to make the fortifications so strong that a comparatively small garrison would suffice. After the experience of the first Bull Run the executive would never consent to leave Washington without a large garrison. At this juncture it would have been wise to adopt a definite policy with regard to the regular army — viz., either virtually break it up, as a temporary measure, and distribute its members among the staff and regiments of the volunteer organization, thus giving the volunteers all possible benefit from the discipline and instruction of the regulars, or to fill the regular regiments to their full capacity and employ them as a reserve at critical junctures. I could not secure the adoption of either plan, and a middle course was followed which resulted less favorably than either of the plans indicated; but it must be said that, even as things were, the regulars were in every way of immense benefit to the service. As a general rule the officers (and, of course, the non-commissioned officers) of the volunteer regiments were entirely ignorant of their duties, and many were unfitted, from their education, moral character, or mental deficiences, for ever acquiring the requisite efficiency. These latter were weeded out by courts-martial and boards of examination, while the others were instructed pari passu as they instructed their men. The small number of regular officers available rendered it impossible to furnish all the staff officers from among them; so that a regiment was very fortunate if its colonel was a regular officer, and a brigade was lucky to have a regular as its commander. The generals were usually, and colonels always, obliged to appoint their staff officers from civil life, and instruct them as best they could. It speaks wonders for the intelligence and military aptitude of our people that so much was well done in this way on both sides. Many of these raw civilians, who were men of pride, intelligence, and education, soon became excellent officers; though these very men most keenly regretted their lack of a good military education in early life. The frequent reviews I held at Washington were not at all for  the benefit of the public, nor yet for the purpose of examining the individual condition of the men, although I did much of that even on these occasions — for a general with a quick eye can see things when riding at a gallop which would seem impossible to a civilian. But they were to accustom the regiments to move together and see each other, to give the troops an idea of their own strength, to infuse esprit de corps and mutual emulation, and to acquaint myself with the capacity of the general officers. These reviews also had a good effect in accustoming the troops to see me, although they saw so much of me in their camps and on the picket-lines that this was of minor importance. With new troops frequent reviews are of the greatest utility and produce the most excellent effect. Those I held did much towards making the Army of the Potomac what it became. Some persons, who ought to have known better, have supposed that in organizing the Army of the Potomac I set too high a model before me and consumed unnecessary time in striving to form an army of regulars. This was an unjustifiable error on their part. I should, of course, have been glad to bring that army to the condition of regulars, but no one knew better than myself that, with the means at my command, that would have been impossible within any reasonable or permissible time. What I strove for and accomplished was to bring about such a condition of discipline and instruction that the army could be handled on the march and on the field of battle, and that orders could be reasonably well carried out. No one cognizant of the circumstances and possessed of any knowledge of military affairs can honestly believe that I bestowed unnecessary time and labor upon the organization and instruction of that army whose courage, discipline, and efficiency finally brought the war to a close. In spite of all the clamor to the contrary, the time spent in the camps of instruction in front of Washington was well bestowed, and produced the most important and valuable results. Not a day of it was wasted. The fortifications then erected, both directly and indirectly, saved the capital more than once in the course of the war, and enabled the army to manoeuvre freely and independently. The organization and discipline then acquired, and so much improved during the campaign of the Peninsula which converted the men into veterans, enabled the army to pass gloriously through the many sanguinary conflicts and harassing  campaigns that proved necessary to terminate the war. They learned to gain victories and to withstand defeat. No other army we possessed could have met and defeated the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. And, with all the courage, energy, and intelligence of the Army of the Potomac, it probably would not have been equal to that most difficult task without the advantage it enjoyed during its sojourn in the camps around Washington. Early in August more or less trouble and discontent appeared among some of the regiments in relation to their term of service. In fact, many of those who enlisted during the first excitement had no expectation of engaging for a long war, and, when they found the three-months regiments returning home in large numbers, became much dissatisfied. In two cases this culminated in open mutiny on the part of large numbers of the officers and men. In the case of one regiment I brought them to order by directing the transportation of sixty-three of the number as prisoners to the Dry Tortugas, to labor there during the remainder of the war. In the case of the other the following order was issued:
The execution of this order was entrusted to Col. A. Porter, who took with him a battalion, a squadron, and a battery of regulars. They were drawn up in front of the mutineers, who promptly submitted. The ringleaders were placed in irons and the rest marched over to the Virginia side. In the course of a couple of months I was able to return their colors to this regiment as a reward for good conduct in camp and in several skirmishes. The regiment afterwards accompanied Sherman's expedition to Carolina and did good service. I think the trouble arose rather from poor officers than from the men. As an additional means of preserving discipline, and to guard the camps from the presence of spies, the following order was issued:
In describing the steps taken toward the creation of the Army of the Potomac it will be well to begin with the Memorandum of Aug. 2, 1861, submitted to the President at his request. In my Report the date is erroneously given as of the 4th. This paper was necessarily prepared in great haste, as my time was fully occupied both by day and night with the incessant labors incident to my assumption of the command and the dangerous condition of affairs.
In the light of the experience of the twenty-two years which have elapsed since this Memorandum was so hastily prepared, and after full consideration of all the events of the long and bloody war which followed it, I still hold to the soundness of the views it expressed. Had the measures recommended been carried into effect the war would have been closed in less than one-half the time and with infinite saving of blood and treasure. So far as I know, it was the first general plan of operations proposed upon a scale adequate to the case. It recognized the importance of railways as a new element in strategy; it emphasized the vital importance of the railway system leading from Memphis to the East; it marked out the advantages to be derived from coast expeditions; it stated the part to be played upon the Mississippi; it foreshadowed the marches upon Atlanta and the sea-coast; it called for a force which the future proved to be fully within our means, and which would have crushed the rebellion in one or two campaigns. In this connection I would refer to the letters written by me to Gen. Scott from Columbus in April and May of 1861. The following was received Sept. 7 and answered Sept. 8: