On the 24th I received the following reply:*
MAY 24, 1862-(From Washington, 24th.)
I left General McDowell's camp at dark last evening. Shields' command is there, but it is so worn that he cannot move before Monday morning, the 26th. We have so thinned our line to get troops for other places that it was broken yesterday at Front Royal, with a probable loss to us of one regiment infantry, two companies cavalry, putting General Banks in some peril.
The enemy's forces under General Anderson now opposing General McDowell's advance have as their line of supply and retreat the road to Richmond.
If, in conjunction with McDowell's movement against Anderson, you could send a force from your right to cut off the enemy's supplies from Richmond, preserve the railroad bridges across the two forks of the Pamunkey, and intercept the enemy's retreat, you will prevent the army now opposed to you from receiving an accession of numbers of nearly 15,000 men, and if you succeed in saving the bridges you will secure a line of railroad for supplies in addition to the one you now have. Can you not do this almost as well as not while you are building the Chickahominy bridges? McDowell and Shields both say they can, and positively will, move Monday morning. I wish you to have cautiously and safely.
You will have command of McDowell, after he joins you, precisely as you indicated in your long dispatch to us of the 21st.
Major General GEORGE B. McCLELLAN.
This information that McDowell's corps would march from Fredericksburg on the following Monday (the 26th), and that he would be under my command, as indicated in my telegram of the 21st, was cheering news, and I now felt confident that we would on his arrival be sufficiently strong to overpower the large army confronting us.
At a late hour on the same day I received the following:
MAY 24, 1862-(From Washington, 4 p.m.)
In consequence of General Banks' critical position I have been compelled to suspend General McDowell's movements to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper's Ferry, and we are trying to throw General Fremont's force and part of General McDowell's in their rear.+
Major General GEORGE B. McCLELLAN.
From which it will be seen that I could not expect General McDowell to join me in time to participate in immediate operations in front of Richmond, and on the same evening I replied to the President that I would make my calculations accordingly.
It then only remained for me to make the best use of the forces at my disposal and to avail myself of all artificial auxiliaries, to compensate as much as possible for the inadequacy of men. I concurred fully with the President in the injunction contained in his telegram of the 24th, that it was necessary with my limited force to move "cautiously and safely." In view of the peculiar character of the Chickahominy and the liability of its bottom-land to sudden inundation it became necessary to construct between Bottom's Bridge and Mechanicsville eleven new bridges, all long and difficult, with extensive log-way approaches.
The entire army could probably have been thrown across the Chickahominy immediately after our arrival, but this would have left no force on the left bank to guard our communications or to protect our right and rear. If the communication with our supply depot had been cut by the enemy, with our army concentrated upon the right bank of the
*See also Lincoln to McClellan, May 21, in "Correspondence, etc." Part III.
+McClellan's reply, of same date, appears in "Correspondence, etc." Part III.