haps capture, of the enemy's whole force at Romney, and that a continuation of the movement westward, threatening the Cheat River Brigade and the depot at Grafton, would cause a general retreat of the whole force of the enemy from the Greenbrier region to avoid being cut off from their supplies; or if the farther movement west was found impracticable, a severe blow be dealt by the seizure of Cumberland. The objection to this plan is obvious: It throws open the passes to the enemy in your front, and gives him free access to Monterey and Staunton. But it is believed, and I share the conviction, that he can ot possible cross his army at this season and remove so far from his base of supply. He would starve if dependent on supplies to be drawn from the or on supplies to be hauled across the mountains. It is quite too late in the season for him to move over to Stauton and then go back across the mountain, and it appears to me that General Jackson is right in saying that his crossing to Stauton would rendered his destruction more certain.
In opposition to all this we have the views of General Lee and yourself, impliedly given in the recommendation to guard the passes through the winter. We do not desire, under such a state of things, to direct the movement above described without leaving you a discretion, and the President wishes you to exercise that discretion. If, upon full consideration, you think the proposed movement objectionable and too hazardous, you will decline to,make it, and so inform the Department. If, on the contrary,m you approve it, them proceed to execute it as promptly and secretly as possible, disguising you purpose as well as you can, and forwarding to me bey express an explanation of your proposed action, to be communicated to General Jackson.
The enemy at Romney is not supposed to exceed 4,000 or 5,000, very imperfectly fortified, and wholly unsuspicious of such a movement., General Jackson's force I suppose to be about 4,500 disciplined troops and 2,000 militia, the latter very good militia. Of course, if you make the movement, it will be necessary to leave behind you, in charge of a good officer, a few troops of cavalry to protect the country against any mere marauding or foraging parties that might be thrown forward when the enemy ascertain that your army has been withdrawn.
In arriving at a conclusion on the subject you will not, of course, forget the extreme difficulty of keeping open your communications in the coming winter if you adhere to the place of guarding the passes, and thus wintering some 6,000 or 7,000 men in the severe climate of that mountain region.
I am, your obedient servant,
J. P. BENJAMIN,
Secretary of War.
HDQRS. FIRST CORPS, ARMY OF POTOMAC,
Numbers 505. Near Centreville, November 24, 1861.
I. All heavy baggage will be forthwith and placed in store at Camp Pickens, where it will properly secured and guarded; to which end division commanders will issue the necessary orders.
II. In the event of an action with the enemy, the new battle flag recently issued to the regiments of this army corps will alone be carried on the field. Meantime regimental commanders will accustom their men to the flag, so that they may became the oughly acquainted with it.
By command of General Beauregard: