Today in History:

21 Series I Volume XII-II Serial 16 - Second Manassas Part II


doah, between Winchester and Middletown, the bulk of the forces being in the vicinity of the latter place. One division of McDowell's corps was at Manassas Junction, with its advance thrown forward to Catlett's Station. The other division was posted in the vicinity of Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg.

When I first assumed command of these forces the troops under Jackson had retired from the valley of the Shenandoah and were in rapid march toward Richmond, so that at that time there was no force of the enemy of any consequence within a week's march of any of the troops assigned to my command.

It was the wish of the Government that I should cover the city of Washington from any attacks from the direction of Richmond, make such dispositions as were necessary to assure the safety of the valley of the Shenandoah, and at the same time so operate upon the enemy's lines of communication in the direction of Gordonsville and Charlottesville as to draw off, if possible, a considerable force of the enemy from Richmond, and thus relieve the operations against that city of the Army of the Potomac.

The first object I had in view was to concentrate, as far as possible, all the movable forces under my command and to establish them in such positions as best to effect the objects set forth. It seemed to me that the security of the Shenandoah Valley was not best attained by posting troops within the valley itself, but that the necessary results could be better accomplished and the other objects with which I was charged best promoted by concentrating these forces at some point or points from which, if any attempts were made to enter the valley of the Shenandoah from Richmond, I should be able by rapid marching to interpose between such force and the main body of the enemy and cut off its retreat. I felt confident, and this confidence was justified by subsequent results, that no considerable force of the enemy would attempt to enter the valley of the Shenandoah while the forces under my command were so posted as to be able without difficulty to intercept its retreat and fall upon its rear. I accordingly sent orders to Major-General Sigel, commanding the First Corps, to move forward from Middletown, cross the Shenandoah at Front Royal, and, pursuing the west side of the Blue Ridge, to take post at Sperryville by passing through Luray Gap. At the same time I directed Major-General Banks, crossing the Shenandoah at the same point, to move forward and take post between 6 and 10 miles east of Sperryville. General McDowell was ordered to move Ricketts' division of his corps from Manassas Junction to Waterloo Bridge, the point where the turnpike from Warrenton to Sperryville crosses the Upper Rappahannock; King's division, of the same corps, it was thought best to leave at Fredericksburg to cover the crossing of the Rappahannock at that point and to protect the railroad thence to Aquia Creek and the public buildings which had been erected at the latter place. While I yielded to this wish of the War Department, the wide separation of this division from the main body of the army and the ease with which the enemy would be able to interpose between them engaged my earnest attention and gave me very serious uneasiness.

Whilst these movements were in progress commenced the series of battles which preceded and attended the retreat of General McClellan from the Chickahominy toward Harrison's Landing. When first General McClellan began to intimate by his dispatches that he designed making this movement toward James River I suggested to the President of the United States the impolicy of such a movement and the