Friday, July 8, 2011

July 9, 1861 (Tuesday): "Ditto to Captain Newton"

The Manassas Gap Railroad (Library of Congress)

                                                            Minutes of Council of War.

                                                                                    MARTINSBURG, July 9, 1861.
   Colonel CROSMAN, quartermaster, thought 900 wagons would be sufficient to furnish subsistence and to transport ammunition to our present force.  The calculation for the original command was 700 wagons, of which 500 were on hand and 200 expected.  The great difficulty will be to obtain forage for the animals, the present consumption being twenty-six tons daily.
    Captain BECKWITH, commissary:  The question of subsistence is here a question of transportation.  Thus far no reliance has been placed on the adjacent country.  A day’s march ahead would compel a resort to it.  As far as known, those supplies would be quite inadequate.
    Captain SIMPSON, Topographical Engineers: The difficulty of our present position arises from the great facility the enemy has to concentrate troops at Winchester from Manassas Junction.  By the railroad 12,000 men could be sent there in a day, and again sent back to Manassas.  Our forces should combine wit the forces at Washington.
    Captain NEWTON, Engineers:  Our present position is a very exposed one.  General Johnston can keep us where we are as long as he pleases, and at any time make a demonstration upon our rear.  Our whole line is a false one.  We have no business here except for the purpose of making a demonstration.  He threatens us now.  We should be in a position to threaten him.  We should go to Charlestown, Harper’s Ferry, and Shepherdstown, and flank him.
     Colonel STONE:  It is mainly a question for the staff.  Our enemy has great facility of movement, and to extend our line would be accompanied with great danger.  Johnston should be threatened from some other point.  We might leave two regiments here, to guns at Shepherdstown, and proceed to Charlestown, and threaten from that point.
     General NEGLEY:  Ditto to Captain Newton.
     Colonel THOMAS:  Approves of a flank movement to Charlestown.
     Colonel ABERCROMBIE:  The same.
     General KEIM:  The same.
     General Cadwalader:  Opposed to a forward movement.

Official Records, Series I. Vol. 2, page 163

Minutes from a council of war held by General Patterson at Martinsburg.  A classic example of why decisive generals avoided councils of war, as they become the sum of the participant’s fears.  While, in theory, the railroad could have transported 12,000 men in a day, the reality was 6,000 men per day would be optimistic, as events later in the month would show.

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