Brig. Gen. Samuel Cooper to Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston on Operational Options

22 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 923-925

Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office,
Richmond, June 13, 1861.

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

General: The opinions expressed by Major Whiting in his letter to you, and on which you have indorsed your concurrence, have been duly considered. You had been heretofore instructed to exercise your discretion as to retiring from your position at Harper’s Ferry and taking the field to check the advance of the enemy. It is to be inferred from the papers now transmitted that you have considered the authority given as not equal to the necessity of the case—that you must needs retire before the enemy was present, or otherwise that you would be unable to avoid capture, and would not be permitted to fight in retreat. In all the directions which have been given to you you will not have failed to perceive that, relying equally on your sound judgment and soldierly qualifications, it was intended that you should judge of the necessities of your condition and of the means best adapted to answer the general purpose of the campaign. As the movements of the enemy could not be foreseen, so it was impossible to give you specific directions, and the cause of the country could only be confided to one who, like yourself, was deemed entirely competent to decide upon events as they arose.

We have no reliable information that the enemy is at Cumberland, and had hoped that he could not so soon be able to reach that point. We had not anticipated that he could turn your position without your being apprised of it in time to make your movements conform to that fact. As you seem to desire, however, that the responsibility of your retirement should be assumed here, and as no reluctance is felt to bear any burden which the public interests require, you will consider yourself authorized, whenever the position of the enemy shall convince you that he is about to turn your position and thus deprive the country of the use of yourself and the troops under your command, to destroy everything at Harper’s Ferry—the bridge across the Potomac, platforms, and trestle work included—which could serve the purpose of the enemy, and retire upon the railroad towards Winchester, carrying with you all the rolling stock and destroying the road behind you. Should the people of Winchester and the surrounding valley rally to your aid in such numbers as to enable you to resume active operations, you will avail yourself of the first opportunity to attack the enemy, and endeavor to drive him from his purpose of invasion, and to do as much else as possible. The ineffective portion of your command, together with the baggage and whatever else would impede your operations in the field, it would be well to send without delay to the Manassas road.

Should you not be sustained by the population of the valley, so as to enable you to turn upon the enemy before reaching Winchester, you will continue slowly to retire to the Manassas road, upon some of the passes on which it is hoped you will be able to make an effective stand even against a very superior force. To this end it might be well to send your engineer to make a reconnaissance and to construct such temporary works as may be useful and proper.

The position of Harper’s Ferry, as has been heretofore stated, is deemed valuable because of its relation to Maryland and as the entrance to the valley of Virginia, the possession of which by the enemy will separate the eastern and western sections of the State from each other, deprive us of the agricultural resources of that fertile region, and bring in its train political consequences which it is well believed you cannot contemplate without the most painful emotions. If, therefore, much reluctance has been exhibited to a retirement from your position, you will not fail to appreciate the motives which have led to it. Should you move so far as to make a junction with General Beauregard, the enemy would be free immediately to occupy the valley of Virginia and to pass to the rear of Manassas Junction; so that, unless the proposed attack upon Alexandria should be prompt and successful, you would soon be cut off both from re-enforcements and supplies until an army could be sent large enough to defeat that before which you had retired, and you know too well our condition to render it necessary that you should be informed that this could hardly be done before the enemy could make a conjoint attack upon you by his armies both front and rear. Troops are now coming forward from the Southern States, and it is to be expected that within a week General Beauregard’s position may be re-enforced by troops equal in number to that which is reported as the effective portion of your command. If you have until then covered the valley of Virginia, General Beauregard may thus with more probable success advance upon Alexandria than by the junction of your command with his by surrendering the valley of Virginia to the enemy. It is not expected that you will believe that mere numbers will give you strength, yet it is hoped that the people fighting for their homes and their liberties, with even a small number of instructed troops, may enable you to operate successfully against such forces as are opposed to you; and it is but justice to add that the greatest confidence is placed upon your capacity to inspire others with the soldierly qualities you have so often exhibited, and that the most unlimited confidence is reposed in you both as a commander and a patriot. For these reasons it has been with reluctance that any attempt was made to give you specific instructions, and you will accept assurances of the readiness with which the freest exercise of discretion on your part will be sustained.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Adjutant and Inspector-General.

Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Col. Robert S. Garnett on Disposition of Forces at Harper’s Ferry

13 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 889-890

Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 28, 1861.

[Col. Garnett:]

Colonel : I reported to you on the 26th instant, for the information of the Commander-in-Chief, that the troops under my command are observing the river from Williamsport to the Point of Rocks. I will now give what was then omitted—the precise disposition of these troops:

Colonel Allen is opposite to Williamsport, thirty miles above, with his own regiment, two companies of Colonel Hill’s, and a section of artillery. The position cannot be defended by such a force, the ferry at Williamsport being at the vertex of a horseshoe, five or six miles in length, having another at each heel. A company of cavalry and a section of artillery guard the bridge at Shepherdstown. There are two companies of infantry, two of cavalry, and six field pieces, with their men, at the bridge at the Point of Rocks, twelve miles below, and a company of cavalry at the Berlin Bridge, halfway to the Point of Rocks. Preparations have been made to break each of these two bridges and the railroad bridge here. It is more than forty miles from Williamsport to the Point of Rocks. A detachment of three hundred and fifty infantry occupies a point on the Maryland Heights, one and a half miles from the near end of the crest of the ridge, and two and a half miles from Harper’s Ferry. The crest of the ridge beyond the Shenandoah is guarded by two companies of infantry.

In the present state of the river no force that could be detached from this place could prevent its passage by an enemy. In a few weeks, or even days, when fords will be numerous, an army will be necessary to guard the Potomac above, as far as the western line of Berkeley. With this point occupied, as it is, some five or six thousand men, judiciously placed between Martinsburg and the line, and a reserve of about the same force within striking distance of each, invasion would be difficult. As matters now are, the enemy can easily seize Martinsburg, in the heart of a disloyal population, and nearer than Harper’s Ferry to Winchester.

If the Commander-in-Chief has precise instructions to give, I beg to receive them early. I have prepared means of transportation for a march. Should it be decided that the troops should constitute a garrison, this expense can be reduced.

Your obedient servant,


P. S.—I submit a memorandum by Major Whiting, C. S. Engineers.


Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 28, 1861.

Consultation on the condition of Harpers Ferry and its defenses reduced to writing.

The plan of the enemy, indicated by his movements, seems to be a cautious approach to, and entrance of, disaffected districts, securing his advance, if possible, by securing the sentiments of the people. In the district to the northwest of Harper’s Ferry these tactics will be the best he can follow, on account of known Union proclivities and the vicinity of the frontier.

Large bodies of troops are gathering at Carlisle and Chambersburg, the number already reported (probably exaggerated) being fifteen thousand. When ready to move they will occupy Martinsburg, crossing at Williamsport and Shepherdstown. Martinsburg is well known to be disaffected. His line, established from Martinsburg towards Shepherdstown, has an excellent base, and communications very difficult to interrupt by the Hagerstown and Cumberland roads, and very seriously threatens, not only Harper’s Ferry, with its present forces and conditions, but our whole line of operations. Martinsburg is nearer to Winchester than the Ferry, and access easy. Our holding Winchester is necessary to maintain the Ferry. To hold this post, then, either as a fortress, a point d’appui, or as a condition of the defense of the Virginia Valley, we require a force of from twelve to fifteen thousand men, of which two regiments should be cavalry. The force now at the Ferry (about five thousand effectives) might remain as at present, while the main body should be posted centrally, as at Burns’ Ford, on the Opequan, where a strong position might be selected, and, if necessary, defended by lines. The strengthening and re-enforcement of this force, as now constituted, seems to have ceased when most necessary. It is essential that supplies of ammunition (especially of equipments of shoes) should be forwarded in quantity, otherwise, without the arrangement designated, we are so deficient in ammunition that this force must, on the advance of the enemy, move out from the Ferry and maneuver, to prevent being shut up in a cul-de-sac.

The plan sketched above will absolutely force the enemy to very great delay and vastly extended preparations. It continually (by way of Leesburg and the eastern slope of the ridge) threatens the District of Columbia. If, however, he is beforehand with us (besides the present disastrous results), he gains what may take time, means, and men, on a similar scale, to recover.

Very respectfully,

Major of Engineers.

Col. Thomas J. Jackson to Col. Robert S. Garnett on Command Dispute at Harper’s Ferry

7 12 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 871-872

Headquarters, Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 24,1861.

Col. R. S. Garnett, Adjutant-General:

Colonel: I forward herewith copies of correspondence between General J. E. Johnston, of the C. S. Army, and myself. Major Whiting has taken charge of the defenses.

I am, colonel, your obedient servant,

Col. Virginia Vols., Comdg. at Harper’s Ferry, Va.

[Inclosure No. 1.]

Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 24, 1861.

Colonel Jackson, Virginia Forces:

Colonel: Will you oblige me by having the inclosed order copied and distributed to the different regiments?

Very respectfully,


[Inclosure -No. 2.]

Orders, No. —.] Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 24,1861.

In obedience to the orders of the Secretary of War, the undersigned assumes the command of the troops at and in the vicinity of this place.

Maj. E. E. McLean, C. S. Army, will take the direction of the operations of the Quartermaster’s Department; Maj. W. H. C. Whiting those of the Engineer Corps.

J. E. JOHNSTON, Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.

[Inclosure No. 3.]

Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 24, 1861.

Brig. Gen. J. E. Johnston, C. S. A.:

General: I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your note of this morning, requesting the publication of an order, as coming from you, assuming the command of this post, in obedience to the orders of the Secretary of War, and directing Maj. E. E. McLean, C. S. Army, to take the direction of the operations of the Quartermaster’s Department, and Maj. W. H. C. Whiting those of the Engineer Corps. Until I receive further instructions from Governor Letcher or General Lee, I do not feel at liberty to transfer my command to another, and must therefore decline publishing the order. Meanwhile I beg you to be assured that it will give me pleasure to afford to yourself and to the other officers named every facility in my power for obtaining appropriate information relating to the post and departments of the service connected with it.

I am, general, your obedient servant,

Col. Virginia Vols., and Comdg. at Harper’s Ferry, Va.