by Earl Echelberry
On May 10, 1861 the Confederate Secretary of War, L.P. Walker, assigned “control of the forces of the Confederate States in Virginia” to Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee. General Lee began selecting points for the defense of the state and assigned a number of troops to each. These points were Norfolk; in front of Alexandria; the Shenandoah Valley; Manassas Junction; Grafton on the Baltimore & Ohio; and below Charleston. He thus established a cordon around the great length of the exposed boundaries of Virginia.
In Richmond, the war spirit was ablaze. With hostile armies threatening, Richmond intensely watched for any signs of attack from the North. To help block an attempted Union advance, the Confederate command moved men through Virginia, with Centreville the collecting point.
The following letter from a Confederate army soldier reflects the attitude prevailing in the ranks of the South before these two great armies clashed, marking the beginning of great battles to be fought in Virginia.
My dear Mary,
We are very strongly posted—entrenched—and have now at our command about 15,000 of the best troops in the world. We gave, besides two batteries of artillery; a regiment of cavalry, and daily expect a battalion of flying artillery from Richmond. We have sent forward seven regiments of infantry and rifles toward Alexandria. Our outposts have felt the enemy several times. And in every instance the enemy recoils—or runs. General Johnston has had several encounters—the advancing columns of the two armies, and with him, too, the enemy, although always superior in numbers, are invariably driven back.
There is great deficiency in the matter of ammunition. General Johnston’s command, in the face of overwhelming numbers, has only 30 round each. If they had been well provided in this respect they could and would have defeated Cadwalader and Patterson with great ease. I find the opinion prevails throughout the army that there is great imbecility and shameful neglect in the War Department.
Unless the Republicans fall back, we must soon come together on both lines and have a decided engagement. But the opinion prevails here that Lincoln’s army will not meet us if they can avoid it. They have already fallen back before a slight check from Johnston’s men. They had 700 and were badly beaten.