Col. Philip St. George Cocke to Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee, on Massing Troops at Manassas and Winchester

3 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 846-847

Headquarters Potomac Department,
Culpeper Court-House, Vat., May 15,1861.

General R. E. Lee, Commander-in- Chief:

Sir: I. In my dispatch, which I had the honor to make on yesterday, I addressed myself to the consideration of the great importance of this my central line of operations through Culpeper, Manassas, Alexandria, &c. I endeavored to impress upon the mind of the General-in-Chief the exceedingly feeble means of defense as yet gathered upon this line, notwithstanding the exertions that have been and that are being made. I showed how easy it would be to take Alexandria in reverse, thus to paralyze and capture the little force there, to advance upon Manassas, where there are at present scarcely a thousand men, seize the whole section of railroad, and thus be able to pour their masses like an avalanche over this fine region, and by using the Manassas Gap Road to turn the positions of Harper’s Ferry and Winchester, take them in rear, and isolate them effectually. In order to prevent results so disastrous, the General-in-Chief will pardon me if I urge upon his consideration what I conceive to be the great importance of immediately massing troops, first at Manassas and next at Winchester, in support of Harper’s Ferry. If at this moment we had eight or ten thousand well-appointed men of all arms at those points, respectively, they would not be too many to enable us to play an equal game with the enemy, who at this moment doubtless has forty thousand men in and about Washington and from fifteen to twenty thousand at Harrisburg and Carlisle; all to be concentrated upon Harper’s Ferry or to be precipitated along this line whenever he shall decide to commence invasion. It is obvious, sir, with a strong corps d’armee at Manassas, and at least a division at Winchester, these two bodies being connected by a continuous railway through Manassas Gap, there should be kept all times upon that road ample means of transportation. These two columns—one at Manassas and one at Winchester—could readily co-operate and concentrate upon the one point or the other, either to make head against the enemy’s columns,, advancing down the valley, should he force Harper’s Ferry, or, in case we repulse him at Harper’s Ferry, the Winchester supporting column could throw itself on this side of the mountains, to co-operate with the column at Manassas and all that can come up in the rear of this line, to hurl back the invader, should he attempt to march beyond the Potomac upon Virginia’s soil.

II. I have every reason to believe that the officers recently appointed and assigned to the work of enlisting and mustering into the service volunteers in the geographical bounds of this central line of the Potomac Department, are exerting themselves with great zeal and energy, and that in the course of a few weeks they will raise and send forward a large portion, if not all, of the ten regiments of infantry, two of cavalry, and one of artillery I was authorized to raise within these limits. In the mean time it may be well for the General-in-Chief to consider what other means, more immediately available, he can throw upon this line, to provide against a possible early invasion of our Potomac border.

I remain, general, very respectfully, your most obedient,

Colonel, Commanding Potomac Department.



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