Monday, September 5, 2011

Beauregard Urges a General Movement Closer to Washington: Not So Fast!

As September 1861 got underway, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard grew restless.  Some advanced Confederate units were already sitting on the hills outside of Falls Church and Annandale.  But Beauregard, concerned about the vulnerability of the Confederate's forward position and eager to take a more aggressive stance, made a plea to his superior, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.  On September 6, Old Bory wrote a note to Johnston:
I have been reflecting much on our advanced positions since my visit to them, and I think, under the present circumstances, we can neither give them up, nor allow them to be taken from us by a coup de main, or an attack in force, for the effect on the morale of the enemy would be tremendous. From what I saw the other day, our reserves at Fairfax Court-House, and Station (about eight miles back), are too far back to be able to come up in time to the assistance of those advanced positions; hence we must make up our minds, I think, to advance them, for the present at any rate. . . .(in Roman, 476.)
Beauregard recommended moving several brigades forward from their present positions. Most critically, he suggested that Johnston strengthen the advanced positions along the Confederate line at Munson's and Mason's Hill. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, these two prominences had been occupied at the end of August with a relatively small force under Gen. James Longstreet and Col. J.E.B. Stuart. Beauregard wanted Longstreet, who was currently encamped at Fairfax Court House, to move his entire brigade to Munson's Hill.  He recommended that one brigade be sent to Mason's Hill and another to a spot between both hills. Beauregard also urged Johnston to send one brigade to a spot near Vienna, two brigades to Falls Church, two brigades to Annandale, and one brigade to Springfield.

The hero of Ft. Sumter made sure to anticipate Johnston's objections.   He recommended that other brigades "might be put at Centreville, Fairfax Court House and Station, as a second reserve. . . ."  (in Roman, 476.)  These soldiers "might occasionally be moved towards the Potomac to keep the enemy constantly alarmed for the safety of Washington, and to cross Maryland should he send off a large force from Washington to any point on the lower Potomac," where Beauregard anticipated a Union attack.  (in Roman, 476.)

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Sitting at his writing table in Manassas, Johnston dashed off a reply to Beauregard on the same day. Beauregard's plea for a more aggressive stance did not go over well.  He told Beauregard, in no uncertain terms:
I cannot perceive the advantage of placing ourselves so near the enemy's works as you propose (the line of Munson's and Mason's hills, etc.). They seem to me too strong to be attacked by us with our present means.  We can rely upon sufficient supplies neither of ammunition, ordnance, nor provisions. (Roman, 476.)
Johnston worried that an general advance would "bring on a war of outposts and continual skirmishing, which would gradually improve the United States troops, and so diminish the difference now existing in our favor."  (in Roman, 476.)

The commanding general thought that the Confederates had already gone far enough:
The line of Fairfax Court-House seems to me sufficiently forward for our purposes, and on it our troops are more easily supplied than on the other. An approach to Washington must be by crossing tho Potomac above. For that we want the men and artillery I have asked for. That line, even, is too far from Evansport  [on the lower Potomac], which we must be in position to assist. (in Roman, 476-77.)
Johnston finished with a blunt rebuke of the recent forward movement towards Washington:
I confess that I do not like the present arrangement in front, at Munson's and Mason's hills. In authorizing their occupation I did not mean to have such posts—posts of such maguitnde—established, and now nothing but reluctance to withdraw—to go backward—prevents me from abandoning them.  (in Roman, 477.)
Beauregard had his answer.  A general advance towards Washington was out of the question, and even the current positions had not earned Johnston's confidence.  Beauregard would have to remain satisfied with staying put for the time being.

The official correspondence cited in this post can be found in Alfred Roman, The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, 1861 to 1865, Vol. 1, p. 473 (1884).

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