McDowell’s Estimate of Required Force for Proposed Movement

10 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. 664-665

Hdqrs. Department N. E. Virginia,
Arlington, June 4,1861.

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

Colonel : I have the honor to report as follows, in compliance with your telegram of the 3d instant requiring me to submit “an estimate of the number and composition of a column to be pushed towards Manassas Junction, and perhaps the gap, say in four or five days, to favor Patterson’s attack on Harper’s Ferry.”

In view of the number of the enemy supposed to be at Manassas Junction, at Centreville, Fairfax Station, Fairfax Court-House, and other places this side of Manassas, and of that at places beyond Manassas, but within a few hours of it by rail, and of the possibility of troops coming from the valley through the gap, I think the actual entire force at the head of the column should, for the purpose of carrying the position at Manassas and of occupying both the road to Culpeper and the one to the gap, be as much as 12,000 infantry, two batteries of regular artillery, and from six to eight companies of cavalry, with an available reserve ready to move forward from Alexandria by rail of 5,000 infantry and one heavy field battery, rifled if possible; these numbers to be increased or diminished as events may indicate. I propose that this force, composed mostly of new troops, shall be organized into field brigades, under active and experienced colonels of the Army, whilst their regiments are being recruited, aided by a few regular officers. This is made the more necessary from the fact that the presence on this side of some corps indifferently commanded has led to numerous acts of petty depredations, pillage, &c., which have exasperated the inhabitants and chilled the hopes of the Union men, and show that these regiments should all of them be restrained as well as led; and where, as is the case with many, they are not so by their officers, they must have some one immediately over them who can and will. I do not propose to have a supply train of wagons for the main body, but to use the railroad, which makes it necessary that every bridge or other important point be guarded, and have either a block-house or field-work. This will require several Engineer officers, and a full supply of intrenching tools, axes, &c.

I have now, perhaps, done all that the General-in-Chief desires of me, but I will take the liberty of adding a few remarks, if not even some suggestions. As soon as we commence to move they will do the same, and as their communications with their position at Harper’s Ferry, which they evidently cherish, will be threatened, they will do as they did when we first came over—hurry forward from all the stations at the South—and the question arises as to the best point or line it is advisable to hold, even for defensive purposes. This, it seems to me, is the line of the Rappahannock, which, if occupied in force, will effectually free all Northeastern Virginia, without coming in contact with the inhabitants, and also free the Potomac. It will be necessary to hold the Aquia Creek Railroad, which, if done in large numbers, would make a powerful diversion in General Butler’s favor. It is true the foregoing is not directly in answer to the question of the General-in-Chief, but I think it flows from it. In relation to the number of troops to be used, I have only to say—what, perhaps, is evident enough, however—that in proportion to the numbers used will be the lives saved; and as we have such numbers pressing to be allowed to serve, might it not be well to overwhelm and conquer as much by the show of force as by the use of it?

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

Irvin McDowell,
Brigadier- General, Commanding.