Immediately previous to and pending the siege of Harper's Ferry he paroled rebel prisoners, and permits, indeed, sends them to the enemy's headquarters. This, too, when he should have known that the lack of ammunition, the bad conduct of some of our troops, the entire absence of fortifications, and the abandonment of Maryland Heights were important facts they could, and undoubtedly did, communicate to the enemy. Sixteen of these prisoners were paroled on the 12th, and a pass given them in the handwriting of Colonel Miles, and some of them left as late as the 14th; while a rebel officer, by the name of Rouse, after an escape, is retaken, and subsequently has a private interview with Colonel Miles, is paroled, and after the surrender appears at the head of his men, among the first to enter Harper's Ferry.
It is not necessary to accumulate instances from the mass of evidence that throughout scarcely affords one fact in contradiction to what each one establishes, that Colonel Miles was unfit to conduct so important a defense as that of Harper's Ferry.
This Commission would not have dwelt upon this painful subject were it not for the fact that the officer who placed this incapable in command should share in the responsibility, and in the opinion of the Commission Major-General Wool is guilty to this extent of a grave disaster, and should be censured for his conduct.
The Commission has remarked freely on the conduct of Colonel Miles, an old officer, killed in one of the battles of our country, and it cannot, from any motives of delicacy, refrain from censuring those in high command when it thinks such censure deserved. The General-in-Chief has testified that General McClellan, after having received orders to repel the enemy invading the State of Maryland, marched only 6 miles per day on an average when pursuing the invading enemy. The General-in-Chief also testifies that, in his opinion, General McClellan could, and should, have relieved and protected Harper's Ferry, and in this opinion the Commission fully concur.
The evidence thus introduced confirms the Commission in the opinion that Harper's Ferry, as well as Maryland Heights, was prematurely surrendered. The garrison should have been satisfied that relief, however long delayed, would come at last, and that 1,000 men killed in Harper's Ferry would have made a small loss had the post been secured, and probably save 2,000 at Antietam. How important was this defense we can now appreciate. Of the 97,000, composing at that time the whole of Lee's army, more than one-third were attacking Harper' Ferry, and of this the main body was in Virginia. By reference to the evidence, it will be seen that at the moment Colonel Ford abandoned Maryland Heights his little army was in reality relieved by Generals Franklin's and Sumner's corps at Crampton's Gap, within 7 miles of his position, and that after the surrender of Harper's Ferry no time was given to parole prisoners even, before 20,000 troops were hurried from Virginia, and the entire force went off on the double-quick to relieve Lee, who was being attacked at Antietam. Had the garrison been slower to surrender or the Army of the Potomac swifter to march, the enemy would have been forced to raise the siege or have been taken in detail, with the Potomac dividing his forces.