|Railroad Bridge at Harper's Ferry|
October 1, 1862-11 a. m . (Received 11.55 a. m.)
Major-General HALLECK, General-in-Chief:
I take it for granted we will hereafter hold Harper's Ferry as a permanent arrangement whatever line of operations may be adopted for the main army. In this event, a permanent and reliable bridge is needed there across the Shenandoah. Mr. Roebling can build a double track suspension bridge on the existing piers in three or four weeks. The wire is now in possession of the Government, and the cost will be some $5,000 besides the wire. No pontoon nor trestle bridge can be made to respect freshests. I ask authority to have this work under taken at once. I would also renew the recommendation that a permanent wagon-bridge be made across the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. This without reference to the further operations of the main army, but simply as a necessity for the proper defense of Harper's Ferry itself.
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
WASHINGTON, D. C., October 1, 1862.
Your telegram of to-day in relation to the building of bridges at Harper's Ferry is received. If you adhere to that place as your base, why not cross at once give battle to the enemy? Unless I am greatly deceived in regard to the enemy's numbers, this can be done now while the river is low. If you wait till the river rises, the roads will be such as to greatly impede your operations. I still adhere to the opinion formerly expressed, that, holding Maryland Heights in force, your army should cross below and compel the enemy to fall back or to give you battle. If he should recross into Maryland or move west, you will then be in his rear, and can be strongly re-enforced from Washington. I know that the Government does not contemplate the delay in your movements for the length of time required to build permanent bridges. I therefore cannot order them till your dispatch has been laid before the War Department and the President. The latter will be with you to-day, and you can consult him there.
H. W. HALLECK,
Official Records, Series I., Vol. 19, Part 1, Page 10.
McClellan's idea of making Harper's Ferry a permanent base of operations must have alarmed Halleck, who knew the administration would certainly not consent to delaying an advance against Lee until a permanent bridge could be built at Harper's Ferry. With the season growing late, the window of opportunity to threaten (at a minimum) Lee's army and (at maximum) Richmond was fast closing. Things would surely have to be brought to a head. The Roebling mentioned here is John Roebling, the epic figure who built numerous suspension bridges, most notably the Brooklyn Bridge.