To this I received the following reply:
[WASHINGTON, D. C., September 11, 1862.]
GEORGE B. McCLELLAN, Major-General:
There is no way for Colonel Miles to join you at present. His only chance is to defend his works till you can open communication with him.*
H. W. HALLECK.
It seems necessary for a distinct understanding of this matter to state that I was directed on the 12th to assume command of the garrison of Harper's Ferry as soon as I should open communications with that place, and that when I received this order all communication from the direction in which I was approaching was cut off. Up to that time, however, Colonel Miles could, in my opinion, have marched his command into Pennsylvania by crossing the Potomac at Williamsport or above, and this opinion was confirmed by the fact that Colonel Davis marched the cavalry part of Colonel Miles' command from Harper's Ferry on the 14th, taking the main road to Hagerstown, and he encountered no enemy except a small picket near the mouth of the Antietam.
Before I left Washington, and when there certainly could have been no enemy to prevent the withdrawal of the forces of Colonel Miles, I recommended to the proper authorities that the garrison of Harper's Ferry should be withdrawn, to aid in covering the Cumberland Valley; or that, taking up the pontoon bridge and obstructing the railroad bridge, it should fall back to the Maryland Heights and there hold out to the last. In this position it ought to have maintained itself for many days.
It was not deemed proper to adopt either of these suggestions, and when the matter was left to my discretion it was too late for me to do anything but endeavor to relieve the garrison. I accordingly directed artillery to be fired by our advance at frequent intervals, as a signal that relief was at hand. This was done, and, as I afterwards learned, the reports of the cannon were distinctly heard at Harper's Ferry. It was confidently expected that Colonel Miles would hold out until we had carried the mountain passes and were in condition to send a detachment to his relief. The left was therefore ordered to move through Crampton's Pass in front of Middletown.
It may be asked by those who are not acquainted with the topography of the country in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry why Franklin, instead of marching his column over the circuitous road from Jefferson via Burkittsville and Brownsville, was not ordered to move along the direct turnpike to Knoxville and thence up the river to Harper's Ferry. It was for the reason that I had received information that the enemy were anticipating our approach in that direction, and had established batteries on the south side of the Potomac which commanded all the approaches to Knoxville. Moreover the road from that point winds directly along the river bank at the foot of a precipitous mountain, where there was no opportunity of forming in line of battle, and where the enemy could have placed batteries on both sides of the river to enfilade our narrow approaching column. The approach through Crampton's Pass, which debouches into Pleasant Valley in rear of Maryland Heights, was the only one which afforded any reasonable prospect of
* As recorded at Headquarters of the Army, this dispatch continues, "When you do so, he will be subject to your orders."