Col. Thomas J. Jackson to Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee on Strength and Deficiencies at Harper’s Ferry

24 11 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 814-815

Division Headquarters,
Harper’s Ferry, Va. May 7,1861.

Major-General Lee, Commanding Virginia Forces:

General: I forward herewith a statement of the strength of my command at this post, of the deficiency of arms, ammunition, and accouterments.*

The deficiencies I respectfully request may be supplied at the earliest practicable period, as I wish to put the post in as defensible a condition as possible. I have finished reconnoitering the Maryland Heights, and have determined to fortify them at once, and hold them, as well as the Virginia Heights and the town, be the cost what it may. For this purpose I would urge the necessity of giving me an ample supply of good arms, and such disciplined troops as you can spare (though it should swell the number here to nine thousand five hundred or ten thousand men). Two pieces of field artillery (12-pounders) should be placed on the Virginia Heights, and a larger number of 6-pounders on the Maryland Heights. Heavier ordnance, in addition to the field pieces referred to in yesterday’s letter, could be advantageously employed in defending the town. The heights west of Bolivar must be strengthened. I would be more than gratified could you spare the time for a short visit here, to give me the benefit of your wisdom and experience in laying out the different works, especially those on the heights. I am of the opinion that this place should be defended with the spirit which actuated the defenders of Thermopylae, and, if left to myself, such is my determination. The fall of this place would, I fear, result in the loss of the northwestern part of the State, and who can estimate the moral power thus gained to the enemy and lost to ourselves ? The commissary department here is in a suffering condition, and will continue so, unless the estimates are complied with. All the cadets you can spare from Richmond are needed here.

The enemy are in possession of the Relay House, and permit no freight cars to come west. Personal baggage is searched. At Grafton the cars have been broken open by the Republicans, upon the suspicion that they contained arms. I dispatched a special messenger this evening to Baltimore, for the purpose of having the arms which Virginia furnished Maryland returned to us, and I trust that the scheme will be so carried out as to elude the vigilance of the enemy.

The pressure of office business here is so great as to induce me to retain Maj. T. L. Preston, of the Virginia Military Institute.

Mr. Burkhart, who is in charge of the rifle-factory, reports that he can finish fifteen hundred rifle-muskets in thirty days. I have, in obedience to the orders of Governor Letcher, directed the rifle-factory machinery to be removed immediately after that of the musket factory. My object is to keep the former factory working as long as practicable without interfering with its rapid removal.

An unarmed company, in Harrison County, has offered its services, and I design arming it at Grafton. With prudent management I hope to assemble a number of companies at that post from the northwest, and for this purpose I have been corresponding with reliable gentlemen in various parts of that section of the State. Major Boykin was here yesterday on his way to Grafton, where I hope he will not long remain without a command.

I would respectfully recommend that the money for which estimates have been made by the quartermaster and commissary be turned over to them at once, and, if practicable, that it be deposited in a Winchester or Charlestown bank. They have been forced to use their private credit, that of the State being insufficient.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel, Virginia Volunteers, Commanding.

*Not found.

John Thomas Lewis Preston was a founder of the Virginia Military Institute.

Philip Burkart was master armorer at the Harper’s Ferry rifle factory.

Francis Marshall Boykin was a member of VMI class of 1856, and served as Lt. Col. of the 31st Va. Infantry



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