layerd. I had hoped that a general advance could be made during the good weather of December. I was mistaken. My wish was to gain possession of the Eastern Tennessee Railroad as a preliminary movement, then to follow it up immediately by an attack on Nashville and Richmond, as nearly as the same time as possible.
I have ever regarded our true policy as being that of fully preparing ourselves, and then seeing for the most decisive results. I do not wish to waste life in useless battles, but prefer to strike at the heart.
Two bases of operation seem to present themselves for the advance of the Army of the Potomac:
I. That of Washington-its present position-involving a direct attack upon the entrenched positions of the enemy at Centreville, Manassas, &c., or else a movement to turn one or both flanks of those positions, or a combination of the two plans.
The relative force of the two armies will not justify an attack on both flanks; an attack on his left flank alone involves a long line of wagon communication, and cannot prevent him from collecting for the decisive battle all the detachments now on his extreme right and left.
Should we attack his right flank by the line of the Occoquan, and a crossing of the Potomac below that river, and near his batteries, we could perhaps prevent the junction of the enemy's right with his center (we might destroy the former); we could remove the obstructions to the navigation of the Potomac, reduce the length of wagon transportation by establishing new depots at the nearest points of the Potomac, and strike more directly his main railway communication.
The fords of the Occoquan below the mouth of the Bull Run are watched by the rebels; batteries are said to be placed on the heights in the rear (concealed by the woods), and the arrangement of his troops is such that he can oppose some considerable resistance to a passage of that stream. Information has just been received to the effect that the enemy are intrenching a line of heights extending from the vicinity of Sangster's (Union Mills) towards Evansport. Early in January Spriggs' Ford was occupied by General Rodes with 3,600 men and eight guns. There are strong reasons for believing that Davis' Ford is occupied. These circumstances indicate or prove that the enemy anticipates the movement in question and is prepared to resist it. Assuming for the present that this operation is determined upon, it may be well to examine briefly its probable progress. In the present state of affairs our column (for the movement of so large a force must be made in several columns, at least five or six) can reach the Accotink without danger. During the march thence to the Occoquan our right flank becomes exposed to an attack from Fairfax Station, Sangster's, and Union Mills. This danger must be met by occupying in some force either the two first-named places, or, better, the point of junction of the roads leading thence to the village of Occoquan. This occupation must be continued so long as we continue to draw supplies by the roads from this city or until a battle is won.
The crossing of the Occoquan should be made at all the fords from Wolf Run to the mouth, the points of crossing not being necessarily confined to the fords themselves. Should the enemy occupy this line in force, we must, with what assistance the flotilla can afford, endeavor to force the passage near the mouth, thus forcing the enemy to abandon the whole line, or be taken in flank himself.
Having gained the line of the Occoquan, it would be necessary to throw a column by the shortest route to Dumfries, partly to force the enemy to abandon his batteries on the Potomac, partly to cover our left flank against an attack from the direction of Aquia, and lastly, to establish our communications with the river by the best roads, and thus give us new depots. The enemy would by this time have occupied the line of the Occoquan above Bull Run, holding Brentsville in force, and perhaps extending his lines somewhat farther to the southwest.
Our next step would then be to prevent the enemy from crossing the Occoquan between Bull Run and Broad Run, to fall upon our right flank while moving on Brentsville. This might be effected by occupying Bacon Race Church and the cross-roads near the mouth of Bull Run, or still more effectually by moving to the fords themselves, and preventing him from debouching on our side.
These operations would possibly be resisted, and it would require some time to effect them, as nearly at the same time as possible we should gain the fords necessary to out purposes above Broad Run. Having secured our right flank, it would become necessary to carry Brentsville at any cost; for we could not leave it between our right flank and the main body. The final movement on the railroad must be determined by circumstances existing at the time.
This brief sketch brings out in bold relief the great advantage possessed by the enemy in the strong central position he occupies, with roads diverging in every direction, and a strong line of defense enabling him to remain on the defensive, with a small force on one flank, while he concentrates everything on the other for a decisive action.
Should we place a portion of our force in front of Centreville, while the rest crosses the Occoquan, we commit the error of dividing our army by a very difficult obstacle,.