Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 22, 1861 (Wednesday): "Without Appearing to Threaten Washington City"

Brigadier General Milledge L. Bonham

                                                            HEADQUARTERS VIRGINIA FORCES
                                                            Richmond, Va., May 22, 1861.
Brig. Gen. M.L. Bonham, C.S.A.:
     GENERAL:  In the execution of the orders with which you have been furnished, relative to the command of the Alexandria line of operations, I need not call the attention of one as experienced as yourself to the necessity of preventing the troops from all interference with the rights and property of the citizens of the State, and of enforcing rigid discipline and obedience to orders.  But it is proper for me to state to you that the policy of the State at present is strictly defensive.  No attack or provocation for attack will therefore be given, but every attack resisted to the extent of your means.  Great reliance is placed on your discretion and judgment in the application of your force, and I must urge upon you the importance of organizing and instructing the troops as rapidly as possible and preparing them for active service.  For this purpose it will be necessary to post them where their service may be needed and where they can be concentrated at the points threatened.  The Manassas Junction is a very important point on your line, as it commands the communication with Harper’s Ferry, and must be firmly held.  Intrenchments at that point would add to the security , and, in connection with its defense, you must watch the approaches from either flank, particularly towards Occoquan.  Alexandria in its front will, of course, claim your attention as the first point of attack, and, as soon as your force is sufficient, in your opinion, to resist successfully its occupation, you will so dispose it as to effect this object, if possible, without appearing to threaten Washington City.
….Very respectfully, &c.,
                                                            R. E. LEE
                                                            Major-General, Commanding

This was written before next day’s vote on secession. Virginia is walking a fine line, not standing against the Union so much as attempting to prevent the use of its soil by Union troops moving against the Confederate states to its rear.  Lee gives early evidence of the strategic importance of Manassas and its line of communication to Harper’s Ferry.  South Carolinian Bonham was a Mexican War veteran who had commanded troops at Morris Island in the attack on Fort Sumter and was assigned to lead a group of mostly South Carolina troops in the Department of Alexandria.

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