War of the Rebellion: Serial 014 Page 0494 THE PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN,VA. Chapter XXIII.

Search Civil War Official Records

Please reply immediately by telegraph. It will take me some days to prepare it for burning.

WILLIAM PANNILL,

Provost-Marshal.

BAYLOR'S HOUSE, May 5, 1862.

Hon. GEORGE W. RANDOLPH:

DEAR GENERAL: Finding that there would be no fighting at least for a few days, I have seized upon the opportunity to turn myself over to the care of the doctor, to re-establish my health, which sadly needed repair. I expect, nevertheless, to join the army in a couple of days or so.

In reflecting over the state of our affairs it has struck me that the changed position of our campaign releases the Merrimac, or Virginia, from the inaction that she has necessarily remained in for the last month, and I have thought it proper to give my views to you upon this subject.

All that the Virginia can effect in the Roads is the protection of Norfolk and the James River. The former object is not now a controlling one, as I understand that Norfolk is, or is to be, evacuated. The protection of the James River by her is entirely confined to the closing of its mouth against a large fleet, but she could not prevent one or more gunboats running by at night, which would give the enemy the control of the river. In addition, our retrograde movement gives him the command of the left bank of the river from the Chickahominy down, and hence we are unable to protect it to the extent. Hence it occurs to me that the object still detains the Virginia at the mouth of the James River is too inconsiderable to occupy the attention of the last naval hope we have.

If she could successfully pass Fort Monroe and enter York River I think that then she would be in a sphere of action more suited to her capacities. By coming up immediately she would certainly capture probably several of the gunboats of the enemy, which would be surrendered, with all their armaments, uninjured. These captures would form the nucleus of a little fleet, which, protected by the Merrimac, would have a safe port of refuge in York River, whence they could sally out to harass and worry the enemy in every conceivable way. To provide for the contingency of the capture of a gunboat the Merrimac should have put on her a sufficient number of men to man the prize, and these could be obtained from the Jamestown and Patrick Henry, if from no other quarter.

But the Virginia would in York River possess a most serious influence over McClellan's army. It would make his base of operations 40 miles distant from West Point, which he will select not if not interfered with and even if, owing to her absence, he could assume command of the James River, still has lie would be liable at any time to be broken by her, and under all circumstances would be less convenient to him and less injurious to us than West Point.

If it should be said that his arrangement would unite or facilitate a junction between McClellan and Burnside, I answer that we are unable to prevent that whenever the enemy thinks proper to make one or two gunboats pass up the James River, running the blockade of the Virginia at night, which I am informed by the highest naval authority on the rive is perfectly practicable.