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18 Series I Volume XXIX-I Serial 48 - Bristoe, Mine Run Part I

Page 18 OPERATIONS IN N. C., VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA. Chapter XLI.

To have attempted any further flank movement would have required abandoning the turnpike and plank roads, and involved the necessity of bringing across the river and up to my lines the supply trains of the army, which till now had remained at Richardsville. I was precluded from attempting this by the knowledge that a day's storm would prevent this train and the artillery from returning, and that, in the event of disaster, I should have to abandon both. Besides, an inspection of the map will show that all the roads in that part of the country run nearly east, and west, connecting Gordonsville and Orange Court-House with Fredericksburg, whereas, in moving around the enemy, I should have to take a southerly direction, and would be obliged to make roads across the country, not only the work of time, but, from the character of the soil, impracticable at this period of frosts. In full view of the consequences, after mature deliberation, I determined to withdraw the army.

But from restrictions imposed upon me by the instructions of the General-in-Chief, I should, in retiring, have taken up a position in front of Fredericksburg, and I cannot but think that substantial advantages would have resulted from such a disposition of the army. I am free to admit that the movement across the Rapidan was a failure, but I respectfully submit that the causes of this failure, a careful perusal of the foregoing report will show, were beyond my control. I maintain my plan was a feasible one. Had the columns made the progress I anticipated, and effected a junction on the night of the 26th, at and near Robertson's Tavern, the advance the next day would either have passed the formidable position of Mine Run without opposition, or, had Ewell attempted to check the movement, he would have been overwhelmed before re-enforced by Hill.

Prisoners reported that Hill did not come up till the afternoon of the 27th, so that if the movements of the Third Corps had been prompt and vigorous on the 27th, assisted by the Sixth and Second, there was every reason to believe Ewell could have been overcome before the arrival of Hill. And after the enemy, through these culpable delays, had been permitted to concentrate on Mine Run, I have reason to believe, but for the unfortunate error of judgment of Major-General Warren, my original plan of attack in three columns would have been successful, or, at least, under the view I took of it, would certainly have been tried.

It may be said I should not depend on the judgment of others, but it is impossible a commanding general can reconnoiter in person a line of over 7 miles in extent, and act on his own judgment as to the expediency of attacking or not. Again, it may be said that the effort should have been made to test the value of my judgment, or, in other words, that I should encounter what I believed to be certain defeat, so as to prove conclusively that victory was impossible.

Considering how sacred is the trust of the lives of the brave men under my command, but willing as I am to shed their blood and my own where duty requires, and my judgment dictates that the sacrifice will not be in vain, I cannot be a party to a wanton slaughter of my troops for any mere personal end.

The reports of the corps commanders, with those of such of the division commanders as accompany them, together with lists of the casualties, are all herewith submitted, except those from the cavalry not yet received.

I also send a sketch,* prepared by the engineers, showing the routes


*See p. 19.


Page 18 OPERATIONS IN N. C., VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA. Chapter XLI.