Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee to Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston on Defensibility of Harper’s Ferry

14 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 897

Headquarters Virginia Forces,
Richmond, Va., June 1, 1861.

General Joseph E. Johnston,
Commanding, &c., Harper’s Ferry, Va.:

General : I received, on my return from Manassas Junction, your communications of the 26th and 28th ultimo, in reference to your position at Harper’s Ferry. The difficulties which surround it have been felt from the beginning of its occupation, and I am aware of the obstacles to its maintenance with your present force. Every effort has been made to remove them, and will be continued, but with similar necessities pressing on every side you need not be informed of the difficulty of providing against them. The arrangements made and positions taken by the troops under your command are judicious, and it is hoped that sufficient re-enforcements can be sent you to enable you to occupy your present point in force and carry out the plan of defense indicated in your communications. Great reliance is placed on your good judgment, the skill of your officers, and the ardor of your troops, and should you be attacked by a force which you may be unable to resist at all points and to keep beyond the frontier, you must move out of your position and destroy all facilities for the approach or shelter of an enemy. Concentrate your troops, and contest his approach step by step into the interior.

With a view of making your column movable, the Quartermaster’s Department was ordered, some weeks ago, to provide all the wagons they could, and I was informed that agents were sent to the country east and west of the Blue Bidge for the purpose. The little use for wagons, save for farming purposes, makes their collection difficult; but by the efforts of the Quartermaster’s Department and the means you have taken it is hoped you may be provided.

Ammunition has been sent to you. The supply was necessarily limited, in consequence of the calls from other points. Can you make arrangements to provide an auxiliary amount for your command?

I have informed you of the military arrangements east of the Blue Bidge. A large force is now collecting in front of Alexandria, and General Beauregard has been sent to command it. Its presence will make the enemy cautious in approaching your rear south of the Potomac, and in that event I hope you will receive timely intelligence, through the light troops under Colonel Ewell, extending to the Leesburg road. Should such a movement be made, as was suggested in a previous letter, you are expected to use your discretion as to the best mode of meeting it.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE,
General, Commanding.



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