War of the Rebellion: Serial 027 Page 0082 OPERATIONS IN N. VA., W.VA., MD., AND PA. Chapter XXXI.

Search Civil War Official Records

The General-in-Chief, in a letter to the Secretary of War on the 28th of October, says:

In my opinion there has been no such want of supplies in the army under General McClellan as to prevent his compliance with the orders to advance against the enemy.

Notwithstanding this opinion, expressed by such high authority, I am compelled to say again that the delay in the reception of necessary supplies up to that date had left the army in a condition totally unfit to advance against the enemy; that an advance under the existing circumstances would, in my judgment, have been attended with the highest degree of peril, with great suffering and sickness among the men, and with imminent danger of being cut off from our supplies by the superior cavalry force of the enemy, and with no reasonable prospect of gaining any advantage over him.

I dismiss this subject with the remark that I have found it impossible to resist the force of my own convictions, that the commander of an army who, from the time of its organization, has for eighteen months been in constant communication with its officers and men, the greater part of the time engaged in active service in the field, and who has exercised this command in many battles, must certainly be considered competent to determine whether his army is in proper condition to advance on the enemy or not, and he must necessarily possess greater facilities for forming a correct judgment in regard to the wants of his men and the condition of his supplies than the General-in-Chief in his office at Washington City. The movement from Washington into Maryland, which culminated in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, was not a part of an offensive campaign, with the object of the invasion of the enemy's territory and an attack upon his capital, but was defensive in its purposes, although offensive in its character, and would be technically called a "defensive offensive campaign." It was undertaken at a time when our army had experienced severe defeats, and its object was to preserve the National Capital and Baltimore, to protect Pennsylvania from invasion, and to drive the enemy out of Maryland. These purposes were fully and finally accomplished by the battle of Antietam, which brought the Army of the Potomac into what might be termed an accidental position on the Upper Potomac.

Having gained the immediate object of the campaign, the first thing to be done was to insure Maryland from a return of the enemy; the second, to prepare our own army, exhausted by a series of severe battles, destitute to a great extent of supplies, and very deficient in artillery and cavalry horses, for a definite offensive movement, and to determine upon the line of operations for a further advance.

At the time of the battle of Antietam the Potomac was very low, and presented a comparatively weak line of defense unless watched by large masses of troops. The reoccupation of Harper's Ferry, and the disposition of troops above that point, rendered the line of the Potomac secure against everything except cavalry raids. No time was lost in placing the army in proper condition for and advance, and the circumstances which caused the delay after the battle of Antietam have been fully enumerated elsewhere.

I never regarded Harper's ferry or its vicinity as a proper base of operations for a movement upon Richmond. I still considered the line of the Peninsula as the true approach, but for obvious reasons did not make any proposal to return to it.

On the 6th of October, as stated above, I was ordered by the Presi-