Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 14.djvu/90
84 Southern Historical Society Papers.
upon Pope's front even if successful would be unavailing, because that would only drive him back upon McClellan Lee, therefore, determined upon a movement unsurpassed for boldness in the annals of war. He threw his whole army entirely around the right flank of Pope and, by rapid marching, gained his rear, thus estab- lishing himself directly between the two hostile armies each outnum- bering his own. His safety depended upon the prompt defeat of Pope. Failure was destruction. Lee had /iffy f/iousand, Pope, seve7ity five thousayid men. Under these circumstances the great battle of the second Manassas was delivered, resulting in the com- plete defeat of Pope and the retirement of his entire army within the defenses of Washington.
Thus, within ninety days from the date of his assuming command, the genius of Lee, operating against overwhelming odds, had com- pletely reversed the relative situation of the contending forces, and rolled back the tide of war from the fortifications of Richmond to the outposts of Washington.
But the task of the Confederate commander was like that of Sisyphus.
He stood victorious in battle ; but what was he to do with his victory ? The attempt to besiege or assault the Federal army in the defenses of Washington was too absurd for serious contempla- tion. He could not maintain his army in its then advanced position, because the country was stripped of supplies, and there was no rail- road communication with Richmond nearer than the Rapidan. To fall back would be to forfeit the prestige of success, and to leave the enemy, with his overwhelming numbers, free to organize another expedition, by the water route of the James to the gates of Rich- mond, and thus to reinstate the peril which had just been averted.
The bold resolve was quickly taken to cross the Potomac, find subsistence on the enemy's soil, force his adversary to leave his fortifications and meet him on a battlefield of his own selection, where a victory might arouse the discontented people of Maryland, and lead to other advantages of incalculable value.
A formidable Federal force of twelve thousand men lay at Harper's Ferry, on the flank and rear of his intended movement. It was absolutely essential that this force should be captured or dispersed. This must be done certainly and quickly, and, to make sure, a strong force must be dispatched for the purpose. He, therefore, detached Jackson with five divisions to sweep this obstacle from the path, and then by rapid marching to rejoin him in time to join