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Gen. Johnston's resignation from the United States Army. He visits Montgomery.
-Appointed a full General.--Ordered to Harper's Ferry.—The place a cul de sac.-Johnston abandons it.--Reasons for destroying the property of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. -How Gen. Johnston amused Patterson.--He asks permission to join Beauregard at Manassas Junction.—The march to Piedmont, and transportation hence to Manassas.
IMMEDIATELY on the passage of the Virginia ordinance of secession, on the 17th April, 1861, State Senator John Robertson, deputed by the governor of the Commonwealth, called upon Gen. Scott, Gen. Johnston, and Col. Robert E. Lee, Virginians, of the Federal army then in Washington, to invite them to take service from their native State. His interview with Scott was unsatisfactory. He saw Johnston at his residence, on Sunday, the 21st, who had been prevented up to this time, by the duties of his office, from resigning his commission in the Federal army. The letter of resignation, however, was then written, and was to be delivered the following morning. Gen. Johnston informed Judge Robertson, that he could not confer with him on the subject of his errand while holding a commission from the United States; but that he would go so far as to assure him that his sword would never be drawn against his native State.
On the same day, in familiar conversation with confidential friends, he expressed himself unreservedly upon public affairs. He considered war to be inevitable, and thought it would be a bloody and protracted one. He was clearly' of opinion that Virginia should stand upon the defensive. He assumed that of course she would be invaded ; and expressed the confident opinion that the principal line of advance and of defence would be on the railroad running from Alexandria to Gordonsville and Richmond. He thought that a second Federal army would be sent into the Valley; as that populous region would supply too many Southern soldiers to be left on the flank of the principal invading force. He ven
tured the opinion that the climax of the first campaign would be a battle fought near the junction of the railroad leading from the Valley with that running from Alexandria to Gordonsville; and he declared that the tactics of the Southern Genetals should be, so to manæuvre as to be able to bring together at Manassas, their armies operating in the Valley and before Alexandria, at the critical moment. These early ratiocinations had a remarkable realization in the sequel; and it is well known to those who were near Gen. Johnston in the operations of 1861, that he steadily adhered to these opinions, and governed all his movements with reference to them.
His resignation of the office of Quartermaster-General was tendered in person to the Secretary of War, on the day following these incidents. The Secretary kindly endeavoured to dissuade him from the step, and urged him to remain in the service of the Union. His arguments were of course unavailing. It was generally understood at the time, that if either Johnston or Lee had adhered to the Union, the principal command of the Federal armies would have been conferred on one or the other of them.
Gen. Johnston at once repaired to the capital of Virginia, where having reported for duty, he was appointed a Major-General of volunteers, and was busy for a time, in conjunction with the State authorities and Gen. Lee, in organizing the volunteers who were daily pouring into Richmond. Gen. Lee had preceded him in his arrival at Richmond, and had immediately received the commission of Major-General, and been assigned to the chief command of the State forces. Gen. Johnston was soon tendered the commission of Brigadier-General of regulars in the State service, but declined it, being invited to Montgomery, for which capital he set out. Three telegrams had come to him at Richmond from the Confederate Government; but he received only the last, which had reached him through Mr. Mallory; the former having been sent through Gen. Lee, who, feeling the need of his services at Richmond, had suppressed them. At Montgomery he received one of the first four commissions of Brigadier-General that were issued; and was afterwards made one of the four full Generals who were commissioned, and who ranked in the following order : Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Robert E. Lee.
From Montgomery, Gen. Johnston was ordered to repair to Harper's Ferry, and to assume command of the troops in that quarter. Gen. Beauregard had already been transferred from Charleston, South Carolina, to the command of the army which was collecting near Alexandria. Gen. Johnston arrived at the Ferry on the 23d of May, where he found Col. Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson in charge, and on the following day assumed command of the forces afterwards designated as the Army of the Shenandoah. Gen. Johnston did not entertain the thought for a moment of holding Harper's Ferry longer than should be necessary for removing the machinery, arms, and military material which it contained. It was the very ideal of a cul de sac. The village, with the government workshops and armory, was situated on a tongue of land thrust in between two considerable rivers, peculiarly difficult of passage, except on bridges of wood, which might be easily destroyed. On the Maryland side the position was commanded by a bold mountain rising abruptly from the Potomac. On the south, it was as effectually commanded by the Loudoun Heights, a spur of the Blue Ridge rising immediately from the waters of the Shenandoah. The space between the rivers in rear of the village, was blockaded by high altitudes called Bolivar Heights. It afforded no protection to the valley, as a strategic position, and could be flanked by way of Martinsburg on the north, and Leesburg on the south. Before reaching Harper's Ferry, Gen. Johnston had determined to withdraw the army from the place as soon as the valuable material it contained could be removed; to which object he immediately devoted all his energies--a labour which had been well begun by Col. Jackson.
He had determined from the first to make Winchester his military and strategic base. It was the centre to which several great roads converged, from all points of the compass. It was also central with reference to the crossings of the Potomac River, and the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. From this position he could observe Gen. Patterson, who soon showed himself, at the head of an army from Pennsylvania and Maryland, at Williamsport; and also look after McClellan, who was moving in Northwestern Virginia. Winchester was a centre from which he could strike in detail the armies threatening the Valley at different points of an intended circumference, and still hold himself in readiness
for carrying into execution his cardinal idea of repairing at the proper moment to Manassas Junction, to take part in the decisive battle that was sooner or later to be fought there. For this latter movement he early and repeatedly, through official and private means, sought authority from the Confederate government. He also solicited permission to evacuate Harper's Ferry.
While the rapid evisceration of this latter post was yet going on, Gen. Johnston's conjectures, expressed in Washington city before the campaign had opened, soon began to be realized. A powerful Federal army was in the course of rapid organization under the immediate eye of Scott, near Washington and Alexandria. By the 12th June, report came of the advance of a Federal force from the Northwest, towards Romney, and more authentic advices that Patterson was approaching the Potomac with an army supposed to be from 15,000 to 20,000 strong.
Gen. Johnston thereupon decided that the time had come for emerging from his cul de sac, and gaining the open country. Accordingly, the great bridge over the Potomac and the factories of the government, having been destroyed under the skilful direction of Major Whiting, and all available machinery, stores and arms, having been removed, without orders from Richmond, Gen. Johnston, on Sunday, the 16th June, abandoned the Ferry, and marched his army out upon the road to Winchester, to a point two miles beyond Charlestown. Hence, turning westward, for the purpose of confronting Patterson, he assumed a strong defensive position at Bunker Hill, on a range of uplands stretching out between Winchester and Martinsburg, where he offered Patterson battle for a day. At Charlestown he had met a dispatch from the government at Richmond, giving permission to abandon the Ferry, but couched in terms which threw the responsibility of the step upon himself. At Bunker Hill the temptation was very strong to advance upon Patterson, who was then between Williamsport and Martinsburg, and endeavour to force on a battle. Had he consulted the wishes of his army or desired a temporary éclat, he would have taken that step. But he had no belief that Patterson would consent to fight a serious engagement; and to follow him far enough and long enough to force one on him, conflicted with his fixed determination not under any circumstances to be decoyed beyond supporting distance of the army of the Potomac under Beauregard. If Patterson were willing to fight at all, his own presence at Bunker Hill afforded an opportunity for doing so; and a battle would be had without placing an impracticable distance between himself and Manassas. It will be found in the sequel, that when the moment for joining Beauregard did arrive, and he was much nearer to Manassas than Bunker Hill, a part of his army, for lack of transportation, failed to reach the field of battle in time to give assistance. It was natural for his troops, who did not understand his design, to chafe under his inaction at Bunker Hill, and we find even Col. Jackson himself writing thus from near Winchester, on Tuesday the 18th : “Yesterday we were to have marched at sunrise, and I had hoped that in the evening or this morning, we would have engaged the enemy; but, instead of doing so, Gen. Johnston made some dispositions for receiving the enemy, if they should attack us; and thus we were kept until about noon, when he gave the order to return towards Winchester. When our troops, on Sunday, were marching on the enemy, they were so inspirited as apparently to forget the fatigue of the march, and though some of them were suffering from hunger, this and all other privations appeared to be forgotten, and the march continued at the rate of about three miles per hour. But when they were ordered to retire, their reluctance was manifested by their snail-like pace. I hope the General will do something soon.” There is no severer proof of a great soul than to be capable of withstanding the reproaches of even the good and wise, in the steady pursuit of a noble purpose, which only the uncertain future will develop, and only success can justify.
From the camp near Winchester Col. A. P. Hill was sent towards Romney to drive back the enemy who were making demonstrations in that quarter, and whom he drove before him through Romney and Cumberland, and along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad some distance further, where he destroyed a bridge. At the same time Col. Jackson was sent with his brigade to Martinsburg, thence to observe the enemy, who had retreated across the Potomac. Here he destroyed extensive workshops and dépots, forty locomotives, and some three hundred burden cars.
It has been asked by this latter soldier's biographer, why this property had not been withdrawn by way of Harper's Ferry before that place was abandoned? The inquiry is as applicable to Col.