Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 29, 1861 (Monday): McDowell Arrives and Sizes Up His Command

Fort Lyon, Alexandria, Virginia

Huntington Street Metro Station-Fort Lyon was in the area on Mount Eagle.

                                    HDQRS. DEPARTMENT NORTHEASTERN VIRGINIA,
                                                                                                            May 29, 1861

Lieut. Col. E. D. Townsend,
            Asst. Adjt. Gen., Hdqrs. of the Army, Washington, D.C.:
   COLONEL: I arrived here too late in the afternoon of the 27th to assume on that day formally, in orders, the command of the department, but I reported to Major-General Sandford at this place, and received from him such information as to the state of affairs as he was able then to give me.  I encamped the night of the 27th with the New Jersey brigade, and early on the morning of the 28th went to Alexandria, and was occupied from 5 a.m. till 9 o’clock at night in examining the position occupied by the troops and looks into the condition of the works.
          Defense works under construction.-The works at Alexandria had not been commenced nor even laid out as late as 10 o’clock a.m. yesterday, nor had the plans been definitely determined upon.  A want of tools in the first place, and in the second place of means of transportation for the men from the wharf in Alexandria to the hill to be fortified, and changes made necessary by a better knowledge of the ground, were the principle reasons given for the delay.  Both the Michigan regiment  and the New York Zouaves were bivouacked and encamped on the site, having but a few men in town.  I trust, therefore, that the navy Department may be requested to (retain) the Pawnee at her present station.  The works at the bridge-head of the Long Bridge were progressing finely, and the report to me was that the men were working diligently.  The main work covering the Aqueduct and the ferry opposite Georgetown was in a fair state….
            Subsistence and means of transportation.-Subsistence is furnished to the troops away from the vicinity of Alexandria by returns on the main depot in Washington.  This, and the utter absence of any wagons on this side, the want of means of communication on the part of some of the regiments, and the inexperience of most of the commanders, have caused the supplies to be irregularly and insufficiently furnished.  One regiment has hired on its own account, out of private means, some wagons to procure supplies.
……I beg to request that some of the recent graduates heretofore assigned to the duty of instructing the volunteer regiments by may be sent here for the same purpose and other duty…..The troops are occupying houses in some cases, and fields, and cutting wood for fuel.  Shall not rent and compensation be paid?  If so, funds are needed for that purpose, as well as the hiring of means of transportation where the same has not been furnished.
       I have the honor to be, colonel, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

                                                                                    IRVIN McDowell,
                                                                        Brigadier-General, Commanding

McDowell has just been given command of all Union forces in Virginia east of the Alleghany Mountains and north of the James River except for an area sixty miles around Fort Monroe (Butler’s command).  It seems incredible, reading this summary of his first day in command, that he was able to take an army to battle six weeks hence at Bull Run.  You also get a sense of McDowell’s competence as a soldier, which is overlooked if all you know of him is the outcome on that single battle.  The fort on a hill spoken of is Fort Lyon, which commanded in its day a fine view of Washington.  It is near the site of the Huntington Street Metro Station in Alexandria on what is known as Mount Eagle.

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