Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee, Asking for Clarification of the Role of His Command

18 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 907-908

Harper’s Ferry, Va., June 6,1861.

General R. E. Lee,
Commander-in-chief, Richmond, Va.:

General: I had the honor to receive your letter of the 3d instant by the last mail. My object in writing each of the several communications in relation to this command was to ascertain exactly the manner in which the Government wishes it to be used, no instructions having been given to me. Do these troops constitute a garrison or a corps of observation ? If the former (which your letter of the 3d implies somewhat), it is to be considered that our only defensible position has a front of nearly two miles; that the supply of ammunition is not more than sufficient to repel one vigorous assault, and that the position could not then be evacuated, as the enemy would be nearer than ourselves to the only line of retreat—that through Loudoun. If as a corps of observation, it will have a task which the best troops would find difficult, for the enemy north of us can find crossing places too numerous for this force even to observe, and, while watching them, it is likely to be cut off by the troops from Ohio, who you know are commanded by a man of great ability. The operations of these troops and those from Pennsylvania will no doubt be combined. A retreat from the presence of an enemy is the most difficult of military operations to the best troops. To very new ones it is impossible. It would very soon become a flight.

You say that “the abandonment of Harper’s Ferry would be depressing to the cause of the South.” Would not the loss of five or six thousand men be more so ? And, if they remain here, they must be captured or destroyed very soon after General McClellan’s arrival in the valley. Might it not be better (after the troops here have delayed the enemy as long by their presence as they prudently can) to transfer them to some point where they may still be useful?

We have, according to the statement of the Master of Ordnance, about forty rounds of ammunition, besides eighty-two thousand five hundred cartridges, just received, which makes an addition of about four rounds, as there are with them but twenty-two thousand five hundred caps.

Notice of the arrival of the Tennessee regiment in Winchester is just received. The colonel informs me that they are without percussion caps.

Our troops are not equipped for a campaign. More than two regiments are without cartridge-boxes. Most of them having traveled by railroad, use trunks and valises, instead of knapsacks, and few are provided with shoes fit for marching.

With money I could have obtained more caps probably. I have not thought it worth while to provide a supply of provisions out of proportion to that of ammunition.

I offer these opinions for what they are worth, thinking it my duty to present them to you, and being anxious to conform closely to whatever general plan of operations has been determined upon. I beg you, therefore, to let me understand my position.

Most respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.

Col. Robert S. Garnett to Col. Jubal A. Early on Lack of Cavalry Arms

18 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 905

Headquarters Virginia Forces,
Richmond, Va., June 4, 1861.

Col. J. A. Early, Lynchburg, Va.:

Colonel : In reply to your communication of the 2d instant, I am instructed to state that there are no cavalry sabers or pistols of any kind here, and your request cannot, therefore, be complied with.

Very respectfully, &c.,

R. S. GARNETT, Adjutant- General.

Pvt. John Marshall Hamlet, Co. H, 18th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle

18 12 2020

Centreville, Fairfax county, Va.
July 24, 1861

I should have written to you sooner & I fear that my delay has caused you some anxiety, but this is the first opportunity I have had for a week. I am well except a sore throat and slight cough. We have had a great deal of rain within the last few days and have been very much exposed as our tents and baggage have been at Manassas since our retreat from Fairfax Court House which you have no doubt heard of.

I will now give you some account of the battles here. Our pickets were driven in about 7 o’clock A. M. on the 17th inst. (we were then at Fairfax Court House). The pickets were within two miles of the enemy’s camp and came near being surrounded by their skirmishers before they came in. We were ordered out on the field and forming in line of battle, but as soon as the enemy came in sight, we were marched off in this direction (none of us knowing that a retreat was intended). One regiment remained of South Carolinians long enough to fire one round & [then] retreated.

The enemy’s advance forces came to Centreville that night and came to Mitchell’s Ford (across Bull Run) early the next morning [18 July] and cannonaded the fortifications there until finding that they could not get over that way, they made an effort to storm the works. The infantry behind the works held their fire until they came very near when they fired & leaped over the works & charged upon them with the bayonet and repulsed them so completely that they gave up the idea of crossing there. The fight lasted four of five hours.

Our regiment was at a ford about four miles above Mitchell’s so we were not engaged in the battle. It is stated that between 900 and 1,000 of the enemy were left dead upon the field. Our loss in killed was very small—not over 20. I suppose though about 40 or 50 [were] wounded.

The Battle on Sunday the 21st was about two miles above us & extended over several miles & lasted between eight and ten hours. Our regiment was marched to the field about 2 o’clock P. M. We marched about one mile over the field where they had been fighting. It was a horrid sight—strewn with the killed and wounded. When we got within 4 or 5 hundred yards of the enemy, we were much exposed to their fire. One South Carolina regiment had taken their battery and they had retaken it. The South Carolinians again drove them from it and they were rallying to get it again when our regiment came in sight. We were ordered to charge upon it which we did & fired a volley upon them when they retreated rapidly. We fired three rounds, then turned their battery upon them so they ran. We had one man killed and three or four wounded, one of whom is mortally wounded.

Our Capt. was wounded by a bomb shell & has returned home. Our regiment lost only five killed and about twenty wounded. Some two or three Southern regiments were badly cut to pieces. Ellsworth’s Zouaves from New York were nearly all killed though they fought desperately. In their retreat, they threw away their guns, knapsacks, and took to the woods. Radford’s Cavalry & Kemper’s Battery pursued them to Fairfax Court House and took an immense number of horses, wagons, ambulances, and a large number of cannon. I do not know how many cannon were taken as there are so many reports about it, but I heard repeatedly today that there were 82 pieces.

Our loss is said to be 1500 in killed and wounded. That of the enemy’s is said to be triple that number at least. No doubt the papers will give more reliable accounts of the loss than I can. The Yankee’s will certainly fight although they are said to be so cowardly. A large number of prisoners were also taken. Since the fight, our forces have been advanced towards Alexandria rapidly. We are now at Centreville and expect to leave tomorrow…. Write soon. Direct to Manassas Junction as our mail is sent to us from there.

Yours affectionately, — J. M. Hamlet

Contributed and transcribed by William Griffing.

See post at Spared & Shared, including other letters of James and his brother, John

James Marshall Hamlet at Ancestry

James Marshall Hamlet at Fold3

James Marshall Hamlet at Myheritage