Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell Assumes Command of Department of Northeastern Virginia

6 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 653-654

Hdqrs. Department Northeastern Virginia,
Arlington, May 29, 1861.

Lieut. Col. E. D. Townsend,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Hdqrs. of the Army, Washington, D. C.:

Colonel : I arrived here too late in the afternoon of the 27th to assume on that day formally, in orders, the command of the department, but I reported to Major-General Sandford at this place, and received from him such information as to the state of affairs as he was able then to give me. I encamped the night of the 27th with the New Jersey brigade, and early on the morning of the 28th went to Alexandria, and was occupied from 5 a. m. till 9 o’clock at night in examining the position occupied by the troops and looking into the condition of the men.

Defensive works under construction. – The works at Alexandria had not been commenced nor even laid out as late as 10 o’clock a. m. yesterday, nor had the plans been definitely determined upon. A want of tools in the first place, and in the second place of means of transportation for the men from the wharf in Alexandria to the hill to be fortified, and changes made necessary by a better knowledge of the ground, were the principal causes given for the delay. Both the Michigan regiment and the New York Zouaves were bivouacked and encamped on the site, leaving but a few men in town. I trust, therefore, that the Navy Department may be requested to [retain] the Pawnee at her present station. The works at the bridge-head of the Long Bridge were progressing finely, and the report to me was that the men were working diligently. The main work covering the Aqueduct and ferry opposite Georgetown was in a fair state. The Sixty-ninth New York is the only regiment at work on it, and they seemed to me to be working admirably.

Subsistence and means of transportation. – Subsistence is furnished to the troops away from the vicinity of Alexandria by returns on the main depot in Washington. This, and the utter absence of any wagons on this side, the want of means of communication on the part of some of the regiments, and the inexperience of most of the commanders, have caused the supplies to be irregularly and insufficiently furnished. One regiment has hired on its own account, out of private means, some wagons to procure its supplies. Forage has also been wanting. A depot is to be established at Alexandria, which will afford supplies to the troops in that vicinity. The depot in Washington might answer for all the others, provided the regiments be furnished with wagons to go for them. I suppose the Quartermasters Department in Washington has not at this time enough wagons to supply the force here with its allowance for its baggage merely, which would require about 200.

For the purpose of giving greater efficiency and a better administration of affairs, I have organized the troops not now brigaded into three brigades, and placed them under the colonels ordered to report to me in their letters of appointment. If a portion of the allowance of wagons for the regimental baggage were sent on and placed under the control of the brigade commanders, I think a better state of affairs will be gained at the least cost. With a view to movements in that direction, I have directed Colonel Stone to ascertain and report the amount of rolling stock on the Alexandria and Manassas Gap Railroad, and the amount of material required to place the road in working order.

I beg to request that some of the recent graduates heretofore assigned to the duty of instructing the volunteer regiments may be sent here for the same purpose and other duty. The only assistant quartermaster in the department is at Alexandria, to be in charge of the Quartermaster’s and Commissary Departments. I have to request that another officer of that department, furnished with funds, be sent for duty at headquarters. The troops are occupying houses in some cases, and fields, and cutting wood for fuel. Shall not rent and compensation be paid? If so, funds are needed for that purpose, as well as the hiring of means of transportation where the same has not been furnished.

I have the honor to be, colonel, very respecfully, your most obedient servant,

Irvin McDowell,
Brigadier- General, Commanding.


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