Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Col. Robert S. Garnett On Supplies and Situation at Harper’s Ferry

12 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 880-881

Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 26, 1861.

Col. R. S. Garnett,
Adjutant-General Virginia Forces, Richmond, Va.:

Colonel: I respectfully transmit herewith a statement of the amount of ammunition on hand.

The quantity in possession of the troops does not exceed twelve or fifteen rounds, the force in this vicinity being about five thousand two hundred men. The statement includes what is still in the Ordnance Department, and is exclusive of the twelve or fifteen rounds issued. I respectfully suggest the importance of instant measures to send an additional supply as soon as possible. There is scarcely half enough here for an action.

We are observing the river from Williamsport to the Point of Rocks, at least thirty miles. Our force is too small, however, to prevent invasion by an enemy strong enough to be willing to attempt it. To hold this point and observe the river above the Point of Rocks would require fifteen or twenty thousand men. This position can be turned easily and effectively from above and below. After turning it, an enemy attacking in the rear would have decided advantage of ground against so small a force as our present one. Should the enemy cross the river the troops in this vicinity would be best employed in trying to retard his advance into the country. Their utter want of discipline and instruction will render it difficult to use them in the field. I beg to receive the views and instructions of the Commander-in-Chief in relation to the manner in which the troops under my command can best be used. I am procuring wagons to march, if necessary.

Captain Ashby, commanding near the Point of Rocks, was instructed by my predecessor to break the railroad whenever he found such a measure necessary for his defense. Those instructions were repeated by me. Captain Ashby reported this morning that in consequence of intelligence just received he was about to throw a mass of rock upon it, by blasting.

Most respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier- General, C. S. Army.

Memorandum in relation to Harper’s Ferry.

[May 26, 1861.]

There is no danger of attack in front, but the position is easily turned by crossing the river above or below. The present force is not sufficient for defense against a superior one, attacking from the Virginia side. Relief, in case of investment, could not be furnished. Considered as a position, I regard Harper’s Perry as untenable by us at present against a strong enemy. We have outposts at the Point of Rocks, near the ferry at Williamsport, and the bridge at Shepherdstown, the extreme points being at least thirty miles apart. Our effective force, including those detachments and two others on the opposite heights, is about five thousand men, with one hundred and forty thousand cartridges and seventy-five thousand percussion caps. The only way in which this force can be made useful, I think, is by rendering it movable, and employing it to prevent or retard the enemy’s passage of the Potomac, and, should he effect the crossing, in opposing his advance into the country. This I shall endeavor to do, unless instructed to the contrary. Orders to provide wagons have been given. Cartridges have been made at the rate of four thousand per diem. I have directed increase of the force employed. Bullet-molds and cartridge-paper are wanting, and may not be procured.

Brigadier-General, C. S. Army



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