Testimony of Gen. Robert Patterson
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 78-89
WASHINGTON, January 6, 1862
General ROBERT PATTERSON sworn and examined.
By the chairman:
Question. Please state in as brief a manner as you can conveniently the connexion that you have had with the present war. State it in your own way without questioning at first. Give us a narrative as brief as you can properly and conveniently make it.
Answer. If any testimony has been given that affects the management of my column, I would like to have it read before I begin. I believe it is customary to have that done.
Question. We are not impeaching the conduct of any man. We are merely endeavoring to get all the light we can upon the conduct of the war. We take every man’s narrative of it, which we endeavor to keep secret, and which we request the witness to keep secret, for the present at least.
Answer. My only object is to answer anything that has been said.
Question. That would be best answered by a plain statement of the facts of the case. I will state that our purpose is not to impeach any man in any connexion he may have had with the war. What Congress expects of us, their committee, is to obtain such facts as we suppose will be useful in throwing light upon the military operations of the army, in order to apply any remedy that may be necessary. I perceive, by the documents that you have before you, that you are about entering upon what is probably a very minute narration; that might be necessary if you were accused—it might then be very proper. But we have no such object in view.
Answer. It is scarcely possible for me to give you in fewer words than I have got here the operations of the army under my command.
After some conversation in relation to the order of proceeding, on motion of Mr. Johnson the witness was allowed to pursue his own way of replying to the interrogatory of the chairman.
The witness accordingly proceeded as follows:
By general orders No. 3, from the headquarters of the army, dated 19th April, 1861, [App. No. 1,] I was appointed to the command of the department of Washington, consisting of the States of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Until the early part of June I was actively engaged in organizing, equipping, and forwarding regiments to Washington, Annapolis, and Baltimore, and in opening, occupying, and defending the lines of communication with the capital. I was then permitted to turn my attention to the organization of the column destined to retake Harper’s Ferry. The impression has been permitted to go forth from this city, and has been most extensively circulated elsewhere, that I had not obeyed orders. I have with me, and will place in your possession, documents to prove that I did all that I was ordered to do, and more than any one had a right to expect, under the circumstances in which I and my command were placed. And I defy any man, high or low, to put his finger on an order disobeyed, or even a practicable suggestion that was not carried out. My column was well conducted; there was not a false step made, nor a blunder committed. The skirmishers were always in front, and our flanks were well protected; we were caught in no trap, and fell in no ambush. My command repeatedly offered the enemy battle, and when they accepted it in the open field we beat them; there was no defeat and no retreat with my column.
The facts in the case would have been made known immediately after I was relieved at Harper’s Ferry in July, but the publication of the documents at that time would have been most detrimental to the public interest. Some two months ago I supposed an investigation could be made without injury; and on the 1st of November I complained to the War Department of the injustice done me, and asked for a court of inquiry, or permission to publish the correspondence between the general-in-chief and myself, and of his orders to me. On the 3d of November the Assistant Secretary of War, Hon. T. A. Scott, acknowledged the receipt of my application. On the 26th of November I respectfully asked the attention of the Hon. Secretary of War to my letter; and on the 30th the Secretary replied, declining, for reasons assigned in his letter, to appoint a court of inquiry.—(Appendix No. 2.) I then requested Hon. John Sherman, senator of the United States from Ohio, who had done me the honor to serve on my staff as aide-de-camp, to offer a resolution, calling for all the correspondence and the orders. The distinguished senator did so; it passed unanimously. The Secretary of War has declined to publish the papers, as it would be incompatible with the public interests. I furnish herewith a copy of the resolution offered at my request by Senator Sherman, and the reply of the Hon. Secretary.—(Appendix No. 3.) On the 3d of June I took command at Chambersburg. On the 4th of June I was informed by the general-in- chief that he considered the addition to my force of a battery of artillery and some regular infantry indispensable. In this opinion I cordially concurred.—(Appendix No. 4.) On the 8th of June the general-in-chief sent my letter of general instructions.—(Appendix No. 5.) In this I am told, “there must be no reverse. But this is not enough. A check or a drawn battle would be a victory to the enemy, filling his heart with joy, his ranks with men, and his magazines with voluntary contributions. Take your measures, therefore, circumspectly; make a good use of your engineers and other experienced staff officers and generals, and attempt nothing without a clear prospect of success.” This was good instruction and most sensible advice; good or bad I was to obey, and I did so.
On the 13th of June the general-in-chief sent me two communications.— (Appendix Nos. 6 and 7.) In one I was informed “that Ben McCullough had two regiments of sharpshooters coming from Texas, and that he was now on the spot preparing to meet my column, and then to fall back to Harper’s Ferry.” In the other I was told ” that, on the supposition I would cross the river Monday or Tuesday next, Brigadier General McDowell would be instructed to make a demonstration from Alexandria in the direction of Manassas Junction one or two days before.”
I know not what induced this supposition. On the seventh I had written to General Scott, (Appendix No. 8,) ” that I desired in a few days to occupy the roads beyond Hagerstown and to establish my headquarters in that town, and to intrench my left flank on the Boonsboro’ road, placing there the force with which I can threaten the Maryland Heights, and, should a favorable occasion offer, storm them.”
I was therefore surprised at the suggestion, as I had said nothing about crossing the river, and had neither men nor guns sufficient for the purpose. But knowing and appreciating the great experience, skill, and sagacity of my commander, I promptly adopted measures to carry it out.
On the fifteenth I reached Hagerstown, and on the 16th two-thirds of my forces had crossed the Potomac. The promised demonstration by General McDowell in the direction of Manassas Junction was not made. On the same day, only three days after I had been told I was expected to cross, and when a large portion of my command had crossed, I received three telegrams from the general-in-chief.—(Appendix Nos. 9, 10, and 11.) The first says: “Send to me at once, all the regular troops, horse and foot with you, and the Rhode Island regiment.” The second says: “You are strong enough without the regulars with you—are most needed here; send them and the Rhode Island regiment as fast as disengaged. Keep within the above limits until you can satisfy me you ought to go beyond them.” The third is as follows: “You tell me you arrived last night at Hagerstown, and McClellan writes you are checked at Harper’s Ferry. Where are you?” On the twelfth I had informed the general (Appendix No 12) that “I regretted my command was not in condition and sufficiently strong in facing a powerful foe to detach at present a force towards Cumberland,” and “respectfully suggested that two regiments at least, if they could be devoted to that purpose, be designated to protect the road in the rear and permit Colonel Wallace to approach.”
In a letter dated 16th June (Appendix, No. 13) I informed the general that “to-day and to-morrow about 9,000 men cross to Virginia,” and submitted my desire, “first, to transfer to Harper’s Ferry my base of operations, depots, headquarters, &c.; second, to open and maintain free communication, east and west, along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; third, to hold at Harper’s Ferry, Martinsburg, and Charlestown a strong force, gradually and securely advancing as they are prepared, portions towards Winchester, &c.; fourth, to re-enforce Cumberland and move north to Romney, Morehead, &c., and operate with the column in the third proposition towards Woodstock, and cut off all communications with the west. We will thus force the enemy to retire, and recover, without a struggle, a conquered country,” &c. I also added that, “if I am permitted to carry out this plan, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and the canal will be in operation in a week, and a free line of communication to St. Louis be established.”
On the 17th the general-in-chief telegraphed me, (Appendix No. 14:) “We are pressed here; send the troops that I have twice called for without delay.” This was imperative, and the troops were sent, leaving me without a single piece of artillery, the enemy having over twenty guns, and for the time but a single troop of cavalry, not in service over a month—the enemy with a full regiment of cavalry—and with not 10,000 infantry, all raw, the enemy having 15,000 trained infantry. It was a gloomy day and night. But I succeeded in getting my forces over the river again with the loss of only one man.
I refrain from making any comments on these extraordinary orders, except to say that I was mortified and humiliated at having to recross the river without striking a blow. I knew that my reputation would be seriously damaged by it; the country could not understand or comprehend the meaning of the crossing and recrossing, the marching and countermarching, and that I would be censured without stint for such apparent vacillation and want of purpose. But I loved and honored my commander; I had served under him before, and had never suffered a personal feeling or interest to interfere with my loyalty and duty to him and my country. I knew that he trusted me, and I trusted him, confident that in his own time and in his own way he would put me right before the army and country. Meanwhile I would bear the odium unjustly cast upon me, and not throw it on others.
On the 20th of June the general-in-chief asked me, (Appendix No. 15,) “without delay to propose to him a plan of operations.” On the 21st I gave him one, (Appendix No. 16,) proposing, “first, to occupy the Maryland Heights with a brigade, (2,100 men,) fortify and arm with Doubleday’s artillery, provision for twenty days, to secure against investment; second, to move all supplies to Frederick, and immediately thereafter abandon this line of operations, threatening with a force to open a route through Harper’s Ferry, this force to be the sustaining one for the command on Maryland Heights; third, to send everything else available, horse, foot, and artillery, to cross the Potomac near the Point of Rocks, and unite with Colonel Stone at Leesburg; from that point I can operate as circumstances demand and your orders require.”
Had this plan been adopted, the army of General McDowell and my own would have been precisely where they ought to have been. I would have been in a position to have aided General McDowell; to have taken and torn up, if I could not have held, a portion of “the railroad leading from Manassas to the valley of Virginia.” This would not only have destroyed “the communications between the forces under Beauregard and those under Johnston,” but it would have prevented either from throwing large re-enforcements to the other when assailed. And if I could not prevent Johnston from joining Beauregard, which I certainly could not do while stationed anywhere between Williamsport and Winchester, I could have joined McDowell in the attack on Manassas, and assailed and turned the enemy’s left. Had my suggestions been adopted, the battle of Bull Run might have been a victory instead of a defeat.
On the 23d of June I informed the general-in-chief (App. No. 17) that deserters ” were coming in daily, and all agreed in saying that the whole of the force originally at Harper’s Ferry, said to be 25,000 men, is still between Williamsport and Winchester;” that the advance of the enemy was approaching Falling Waters, the remainder in a semicircle, all within four hours of the advance. I added, “that this force might soon annoy me; if so, I would not avoid the contest they may invite.”
On the 25th I was directed (App. No. 18) to “remain in front of the enemy while he continued in force between Winchester and the Potomac; if his superior or equal in force, I might cross and offer him battle.” On the 27th General Scott informed me (App. No. 19) that “he had expected I was crossing the river that day in pursuit of the enemy.” What could have induced this expectation it would have been difficult to imagine. On the 4th of June the general-in-chief had told me that “a battery of artillery and some regular infantry to be added to my force was indispensable,” and both had been taken away. On the 8th of June he had told me I must “attempt nothing without a clear prospect of success.” And on the 16th he had told me to “keep within the above limits until I could satisfy the general-in-chief that I ought to go beyond them.” It is true Major Doubleday had three siege guns, movable only in favorable ground, and that Captain Perkins had six field guns, not rifled; but they could not be moved, as he had no harness, and did not get any until the 29th. Both had asked for rifled guns, and had been informed in letter of the 27th of June (App. No. 20) that “the ordinary guns which have been furnished the battery are considered as sufficiently effective by the general-in-chief.” On the 28th of June I informed the general-in-chief (App. No. 21) that “Captain Newton, of the engineers, a most intelligent and reliable officer, had returned, after two days’ absence, and reported General Johnston to have 15,000 men and twenty to twenty four guns and a large cavalry force, and thinks General Negley, whose brigade is on my left near Sharpsburg, will be attacked, the river being fordable at almost every point.” And I might have added that on the 20th General Cadwalader had reported the enemy as having twenty guns; “they were counted as they passed.” To meet this force of 16,000 men and twenty- two guns, I had but 10,000 volunteer infantry, 650 cavalry and artillery, and six guns; the artillery being nearly all recruits, the horses untrained, and still without harness for the battery. In the same letter I informed General Scott that I had “repeatedly asked for batteries, and ought to have had one for each brigade; that I had neither cavalry nor artillery enough to defend the fords of the river, and that I would not, on my own responsibility, cross the river and attack without artillery a force so much superior in every respect to my own, but would do so cheerfully and promptly if the general-in-chief would give me explicit orders to that effect.” In the same letter I asked for the troops that had “been taken from me, and a number of field guns equal to those of the insurgents,” that I might be enabled ” to choose my point of attack and offer battle to the enemy;” adding that if “the general-in-chief would give me a regiment of regulars and an adequate force of artillery I would cross the river and attack the enemy, unless his force was ascertained to be more than two to one.” No regulars were sent me, and but one field battery of artillery, leaving me greatly inferior in that important arm. The number of my troops has always been overestimated. There were twelve regiments ordered to join me—say, one Delaware and three New Jersey on the 24th of May, two New York regiments on the 30th of May, two Ohio and two northern regiments on the 4th of June, and two Pennsylvania regiments on the 10th of June—but they did not do so. I crossed the Potomac on the 2d of July with less than 11,000 men and six guns, the enemy having 16,000 men, mostly confederate troops, (not State troops,) and twenty to twenty-four guns. My largest force was accumulated at Martinsburg, and they did not exceed 19,000 men. My own estimate of their number was 18,200. When I marched from there I had to leave two regiments, taking about 16,800 men with me; and, deducting from them the sick, the rear and wagon guards, I could not have gone into action at Martinsburg with more than 15,000 men, or at any time after that with more than 13,000; and at the time Johnston marched from Winchester I could not have gone into action with 8,000 men.
On the 26th of June, anxious for the safety of Maryland and the frontiers of Pennsylvania, I had written to Major General McCall as follows:
“HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF PENNSYLVANIA,
“Hagerstown, June 26, 1861.
“MY DEAR GENERAL : If I can get permission to go over into Virginia I intend to cross the river and offer battle to the insurgents. As the regulars and Rhode Island regiment and the battery have been taken from me, I will require all the force now here, and must leave the Pennsylvania line unguarded. Please inform me how many men you could throw forward, and how soon.
“Very repectfully and truly yours.”
I will read Major General McCall’s reply:
“HARRISBURG, Sunday, June 30, 1861.
“MY DEAR GENERAL: On my return from Pittsburg, this morning, I find your note of the 26th instant, informing me of your purpose to cross the river and offer battle to the insurgents, and asking what force I can throw forward upon s the Pennsylvania line.
“In reply, I have to say that the only force (one regiment rifles, and one infantry, with a section of artillery) of my command as yet armed and equipped has been pushed forward to the support of Colonel Wallace at Cumberland, and for the protection of our border settlers in that direction; the other regiments are without clothing, arms, or equipments still, notwithstanding my efforts to fit them for the field. You will, therefore perceive how impossible it will be for me, although I much regret it, to comply with your request.
”With great regard, very truly yours,
“GEORGE A. McCALL.”
It will be seen from the letter of General McCall that with all his efforts he had but two regiments fit for the field, and those two regiments, under Colonels Biddle and Simmons, were then beyond Bedford, “for the support of Colonel Wallace at Cumberland, and for the protection of our border settlers in that direction.” I was thus made responsible for our entire frontier from Cumberland to Edwards’s Ferry, while I had not cavalry or artillery enough to guard the fords between Hancock and Harper’s Ferry.
On the 28th of June I had used, in writing to General Scott, (App. No. 21,) the following emphatic, if not prophetic, language: ” I beg to remind the general-in-chief that the period of service of nearly all the troops here will expire within a month, and that if we do not meet the enemy with them we will be in no condition to do so for three months to come. The new regiments will not be fit for service before September, if then; meanwhile the whole frontier will be exposed.” Why did General Scott delay the; attack on Manassas until the 21st of July?
On the 29th of June the harness for Perkins’s battery arrived, and on the 30th orders were issued (App. No. 22) for a reconnoissance in force to be made early next morning. The whole army, except camp guards, were to march with two days’ provisions, leaving tents and baggage, and to cross in two columns at Dam No. 4 and Williamsport, hoping thus to get the column crossing at Dam No. 4 in rear of the enemy encamped at Falling Waters, and to capture them; failing in that, to attack and defeat them. The troops were to commence crossing at midnight, but the ford was found impracticable, and after hours of labor and exposure to a severe rain the attempt was abandoned. The troops were then all concentrated at Williamsport, and on the next day, the 2d of July, crossed into Virginia and advanced in two columns. Just beyond Falling Waters the advance brigade of the enemy, 3,500 infantry, with artillery and a large cavalry force, all under General Jackson, were encountered, and after a sharp contest, principally with Colonel Abercrombie’s brigade, was forced back and driven before our troops for several miles, the relative loss of the enemy being very heavy.
On the 3d of July the army under my command entered and took possession of Martinsburg. There I was compelled to halt and send back for supplies, and to wait for Colonel Stone’s command, ordered on the 30th of June to join me—which he did do on the 8th of July—and for more means of transportation, without which it was impossible to advance, having wagons and teams for baggage only, and none for a supply train. The re-enforcements being without wagons only added to my difficulties.
In General McDowell’s report of the battle of Bull Run, he states that “the sending of re-enforcements to General Patterson, by drawing off the wagons, was a further and unavoidable delay.” There is no doubt that the gallant general believed that what he said was true. But it may be as well to inform the committee that the re-enforcements sent from Washington to me amounted to three regiments, under General Sanford; that they came without wagons, and that General Scott informed me I would have “to furnish transportation for them.” Not one wagon, horse, mule, or set of harness was sent from Washington to me. All the transportation I had was furnished under my own orders by the energetic efforts of my efficient deputy quartermaster general, Colonel Crosman.
On the 4th of July I informed the general-in-chief (App. No. 23) that I had halted to bring up supplies; that my transportation was entirely inadequate; that “the terms of the three months volunteers was about to expire, and that they would not, in any number, renew their service, though I thought the offer should be made” to them. I also informed the general-in-chief that General Johnston, with from 15,000 to 18,000 foot, 22 guns, and 650 artillery, were within seven miles of me, my own force consisting of 10,000 foot, 6 guns, and 650 cavalry, in a hostile country, a river in the rear, and not over two days’ supplies.
On the 5th, the general-in-chief informed me (App. No. 24) that he had ordered certain regiments to join me, adding “you will have to provide transportation for them.” These troops were greatly needed, but they increased the difficulty as regarded transportation, which, as the general-in- chief had been informed, was not over half sufficient for the troops then at Martinsburg. On the same day I informed General Scott that large re-enforcements had come in to General Johnston from Manassas, and being much inferior to the enemy in men and guns, I ordered Colonel Stone (App. No. 25) to join my column at the earliest moment.
On the 7th, General Scott informed me (App. No. 26) that he could “not yet say on what day he would attack the enemy in the direction of Manassas Junction; he hoped, however, to be ready before the end of the week.”
On the 8th of July Colonel Stone’s command arrived, and the following orders to advance were immediately issued. The object being to attack the enemy at Winchester:
“HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT of PENNSYLVANIA,
“Martinsburg, Fa., July 8,1861.
“The troops will move to-morrow morning in the following order:
“The 1st (Thomas’s) brigade, with the Rhode Island battery temporarily attached thereto, will advance by the Winchester turnpike, accompanied by one squadron of cavalry.
“The 7th (Stone’s) brigade, with Perkins’s battery attached thereto, will take the main street of the town, by the court-house, and will continue on the road parallel and east of the Winchester turnpike. One company of cavalry will be attached to this command.
“The 1st (Cadwalader’s) division will follow the march of Thomas’s brigade; Doubleday’s battery will advance with this division; one regiment of which will be detailed for its guard, to accompany wherever it may be ordered.
“The 2d (Keim’s) division will pursue both routes, General Negley’s brigade following the march of Colonel Stone, and Colonel Abercrombie’s and Colonel Wynkoop’s that of General Cadwalader..
“The 28th and 19th New York regiments will be temporarily attached to General Keim’s division.
“General Keim will detail a strong rear guard of his division for the wagon train. The rear guard will march on the flanks and rear of the train, and will be re-enforced by a squadron of cavalry. General Keim will detail a competent field officer to command the rear guard.
“The wagons will advance in one train in the rear of the troops, and will be required to keep closed.
“The troops of the several divisions and brigades will keep closed.
“By order, &c.”
About midnight the order was countermanded, as some of the troops that had arrived under Colonel Stone that day were reported so weary and footsore as to be quite unable to endure the fatigue of a further march and be in a condition to fight.
On the next morning, the 9th of July, finding from conversation with some of my officers that the opposition to my plan of advancing upon Winchester, made known by the circular, appeared to be very strong and decided, I was induced, before renewing the order, to call a council of all the division and brigade commanders, the engineer officers, and chiefs of the departments of supply. I submitted to the council my instructions, orders, and the following statement:
“This force was collected originally to retake Harper’s Ferry. That evacuated, it was directed to remain as long as Johnston remained in force in this vicinity. Threatening, as he was, either to move to the aid of the force attacking Washington, or annoying the frontier of Maryland, this army was permitted to cross the Potomac and offer battle. If accepted, so soon as Johnston was defeated, to return and approach Washington.
“The enemy retires, for what? Is it weakness, or a trap? Can we continue to advance and pursue if he retires? If so, how far? When shall we retire? Our volunteer force will soon dwindle before us, and we may be left without aid. If our men go home without a regular battle, a good field-fight, they will go home discontented, will not re-enlist, and will sour the minds of others. We have a long line to defend, liable at any moment to be cut off from our base and depot, and to a blow on our flank. Our forces must not be defeated, not checked in battle, or meet with reverses. It would be fatal to our cause.
“A force threatens Washington. If we abandon our present position Johnston will be available to aid. The command has been largely re-enforced to enable us to sustain our position, to clear the valley to Winchester, to defeat the enemy if he accepts battle, and to be in position to aid General McDowell, or to move upon Washington, Richmond or elsewhere, as the general-in-chief may direct. General Sanford, with two rifled guns and three regiments, will be up to-morrow. Our force will then be as large as it ever will be, under the prospect of losing a large portion of our force in a few days by expiration of service. What shall be done?”
The result of the deliberation is given in the following minutes, taken at the time by Major Craig Biddle, of the staff:
“Minutes of council of war, held July 9, 1861, at Martinsburg, Va.
“Colonel Crosman, quartermaster, thought 900 wagons would be sufficient to furnish subsistence, and to transport ammunition to our present force. The calculation for the original column was 700 wagons, of which 500 were on hand, and 200 expected. The great difficulty will be to obtain forage for the animals, the present consumption being twenty-six tons daily.
“Captain Beckwith, commissary. The question of subsistence is here a question of transportation. Thus far no reliance has been placed on the adjacent country. A day’s march ahead would compel a resort to it. As far as known those supplies would be quite inadequate.
”Captain Simpson, topographical engineers. The difficulty of our present position arises from the great facility the enemy has to concentrate troops at Winchester from Manassas Junction. By the railroad 12, 000 men could be sent there in a day, and again sent back to Manassas. Our forces should combine with the forces at Washington.
“Captain Newton, engineers. Our present position is a very exposed one. General Johnston can keep us where we are as long as he pleases, and at any time make a ‘demonstration on our rear. Our whole line is a false one. We have no business here, except for the purpose of making a demonstration. He threatens us now. We should be in a position to threaten him. We should go to Charlestown, Harper’s Ferry, Shepherdstown, and flank him.
“Colonel Stone. It is mainly a question for the staff. Our enemy has great facility of movement, and to extend our line would be accompanied with great danger. Johnston should be threatened from some other point. We might leave two regiments here, two guns at Shepherdstown, and proceed to Charlestown, and threaten from that point.
“General Negley, ditto to Captain Newton.
“Colonel Thomas approves of a flank movement to Charlestown.
“Colonel Abercrombie the same.
“General Keim the same.
“General Cadwalader opposed to a forward movement.”
On the day the council was held I wrote to the general-in-chief (App. No. 27) that I was deficient in supply trains; that my difficulties would increase as I advanced. This was the great want of my army; and on the 7th, 12th, 16th, and 21st of June, and the 4th and 5th of July, I had written to General Scott very fully on this subject. I refer to it here to show why I could not move when and where I wished. Colonel Crosman, the efficient quartermaster of my army, had done all that could be done, and more than 1 had supposed could be accomplished; but the troops sent from Washington and elsewhere, with the exception of the Rhode Island regiment, had brought no transportation with them. The enemy, though far superior in number of men and guns, had retired in succession from one position to another. I wrote that “his design evidently was to draw our force on as far as possible from the base, and then to cut our line or to attack with large re-enforcements from Manassas.” In view of all these difficulties, I presented to the general-in-chief a plan by which I “proposed to move my force to Charlestown, establish my depot at Harper’s Ferry, and connect with the Maryland shore by a bridge of boats,” which I had caused to be gathered in a safe place. I also desired to know when the general-in-chief “wished me to approach Winchester, and on what day the attack would be made on Manassas;” and I requested that the general-in-chief would indicate the day, by telegraph thus: “Let me hear from you on ——.”
On the 11th of July I received from the general-in-chief the following telegram:
“Washington, July 11, 1861.
“Major General PATTERSON,
“The author of the following ia known, and he believes it authentic :
“WASHINGTON, July 9, 1861.
“The plan of operations of the secession army in Virginia contemplate the reverse of the proceedings and movements announced in the express of yesterday and Saturday. A schedule that has come to light meditates a stand and an engagement by Johnston, when he shall have drawn Patterson sufficiently far back from the river to render impossible his retreat across it on being vanquished, and an advance then by Johnston and Wise conjointly upon McClellan, and after the conquest of him, a march in this direction to unite, in one attack upon the federal forces across the Potomac, with the army under Beauregard at Manassas Junction, and the wing of that army, the South Carolina regiments chiefly, now nine (9) miles from Alexandria. Success in each of these three several movements is anticipated, and thereby not only the possession of the capital is thought to be assured, but an advance of the federal troops upon Richmond prevented.
The plan supposes that this success will give the confederate cause such prestige, and inspire in it such faith, as will insure the recognition of its government abroad, and at the same time so impair confidence in the federal government as to render it impossible for it to procure loans abroad, and very difficult for it to raise means at home. Real retreats, which have been anticipated, it will be seen, are by this plan altogether ignored. According to it, fighting and conquest are the orders”
This paper speaks for itself—comment is needless. Yet one cannot avoid raising the question, how the general-in-chief could ask or expect me to attack General Johnston’s large force of men and guns in their intrenched camp at Winchester in less than a week after he had officially informed me that “a schedule that had come to light meditates a stand and an engagement by Johnston, when he shall have drawn Patterson sufficiently far back from the river to render impossible his retreat across it, after being vanquished.” That this was the plan agreed upon by the confederate generals there is no doubt; and it was a judicious one. Information of a similar kind had come in from various quarters. My most experienced officers of the regular service, with whom I fully and freely consulted—Colonels George H. Thomas, Abercrombie, and Crosman, Major Fitz-John Porter, Captains Newton, Beckwith, and many others, men of long service, merit, and great experience—all concurred in the opinion that I was too far advanced at Martinsburg; that Johnston had fallen back for no other purpose than to lure me on; that Johnston had a trap set somewhere, and that, if not very cautious, I would fall into it. Each of the above-named distinguished officers not only approved warmly of the management of my command, but opposed, both in and out of council, a further advance from Martinsburg. With their opposition to an advance well known, five of the number have since been made brigadier generals.
On the 12th of July, not hearing from the general-in-chief, the substance of my letter of the 9th was repeated by telegraph. The general-in-chief was also informed that I considered “a regiment of regulars, and more if possible, essential to give steadiness to my column, and to carry on active operations against a determined opposition.” The necessity of this will be manifest when it is known that nearly all of Johnston’s army were confederate troops, well disciplined and well commanded. I also stated that “many of my men were barefooted, and could not be employed on active service.” Colonel Menier had reported the 3d Pennsylvania as unable to march for want of shoes.
On the same day, the 12th of July, General Scott telegraphed me, (App. No. 28 :) “Go where you propose in your letter of the 9th instant. Let me hear from you on Tuesday.” That is, “go to Charlestown ; we shall attack Manassas on Tuesday ; I wish you to approach Winchester on that day.” That was our translation of the whole matter.
On Saturday, the 13th of July, General Scott telegraphed me, (App. No. 29 :) “I telegraphed you on yesterday. If not strong enough to beat the enemy early next week, make demonstrations to detain him in the valley of Winchester ; but if he retreats in force towards Manassas, and it would be hazardous to follow him, then consider the route via Keyes’s Ferry, Hillsboro’, and Leesburg.” On the same day I informed General Scott that “Johnston is in position beyond Winchester to be re-enforced, and his strength doubled just as I could reach him ;” and that I “would rather lose the chance of accomplishing something brilliant than by hazarding my column to destroy the fruits of the whole campaign to the country by defeat. If wrong, let me be instructed.”— (App. No. 30.)
This correspondence is very plain. It can hardly be misunderstood by the most obtuse intellect. Any one who can read plain English can comprehend it. I proposed to my superior to go to Charlestown. I am ordered to do so. In my letter of instructions I am told “there must be no reverse, no check, no drawn battle.” I am told “take your measures circumspectly, and attempt nothing without a clear prospect of success.” These instructions had not been rescinded or modified, and I was bound to obey them. Had I disobeyed and been defeated, as I most certainly would have been— and in this opinion I am sustained by every officer of the regular army serving with me, and, so far as I am informed, by all or nearly all the officers of volunteers—I would have deserved the severe censure which has so unjustly been cast upon me. I preferred the performance of my plain duty to a distinction which could have been gained only by the sacrifice of my men, and with great detriment to the cause in which I was engaged. I informed my commander of the difficulties and dangers of my position, the strength and great advantages of my antagonist, and that I would not, on my own responsibility, hazard my column and the interests of the country by a defeat—asking “if wrong, let me be instructed.” If my superior thought differently, and that an attack should be made, why did he not assume the responsibility of his station and give the order? There was not one person in that column, from myself down to the youngest drum-boy, who would not most cheerfully have gone into battle, knowing that every individual would be killed, if they believed the interest and honor of the country required the sacrifice, or if General Scott had ordered it. Although I asked to be instructed, no instructions were given. I therefore inferred, as my opinions were not overruled, that I was right, especially as I was actually ordered to go to Charlestown.
On the 14th I informed General Scott (App. No. 31) that on the morrow I would advance to Bunker Hill preparatory to the other movement—that is, preparatory to going to Charlestown. “If an opportunity offers, I will attack, but unless I can rout I will be careful.” General Scott was therefore thoroughly informed of what I was doing and intended to do one week before the battle of Manassas.
On Monday, the 15th, leaving two regiments—one being unable to march for want of shoes—to guard Martinsburg, I marched with the remainder of my army to Bunker Hill, forcing the enemy’s cavalry before me, killing one and taking some prisoners.
On Tuesday, the 16th, the day General Scott said he was going to attack Manassas, and desired a demonstration, a reconnoissance in force was made, driving the enemy’s pickets into Winchester. This, with a loss on the part of the enemy of several killed and wounded, was reported the same day to the general-in-chief, who was informed (App. No. 32) that the reconnoissance found the road from Bunker Hill to Winchester “blocked by fallen trees and fences placed across it.” And “a sketch of the works of defence, prepared by Captain Simpson,”a very reliable officer, was sent him. This sketch showed that the works erected and the guns mounted were of the most formidable character. The general-in-chief was also informed on the same day that on “to-morrow we would move to Charlestown;” that preparations had already “been commenced to occupy and hold Harper’s Ferry; that the time of a large number of the men would expire s that week, and they would not remain;” and “that after securing Harper’s Ferry I would, if the general-in-chief desired, advance with the remainder of my troops via Leesburg, and desired to be informed if this proposition met with the approval of the general-in-chief.” From this it will be seen that I did all that I was ordered to do, and at least as much, if not a great deal more, than any one had a right to expect.
On Tuesday, the 16th, according to General Scott’s promise, Manassas was to be attacked. I expected, and had a right to expect, that as I had performed my part in delaying Johnston in Winchester, General Scott would have performed his, and assail Manassas. If anything had occurred to render the attack on Manassas inexpedient on that day, then General Scott should have informed me and directed me to continue my demonstrations, which could have been done just as easily from Charlestown as from Martinsburg; or he should have given me the order to march at once with all my force to Leesburg, as suggested by me, and delayed the attack on Manassas until I had arrived and been joined in the battle. The neglect or omission to do either is inexplicable. I kept General Scott well informed of all my movements. It was due to me, and necessary for the success of our armies, that I should have been equally well informed of the movements of corps with which it was expected I should co-operate.
On the 17th of July I again informed General Scott (App. No. 33) that the “term of 18 of my 26 regiments would expire within seven days, commencing to-morrow;” that “I could rely on none of them renewing their service;” and “that I must be at once provided with efficient three years men, or withdraw entirely to Harper’s Ferry.” Here was direct information that I could not hold Johnston, and that unless troops were sent me to take the place of those whose time was up, I could not even remain at Charlestown, but would have to fall back to Harper’s Ferry. If troops could not be spared to re-enforce me, why was I not then ordered with my entire command to march to Leesburg and unite with McDowell in the assault on Manassas?
[At the request of the witness, the further examination was postponed until to-morrow.]