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6 Series I Volume XIX-I Serial 27 - Antietam Part I

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Page 6 OPERATIONS IN N. VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA. Chapter XXXI.

with bravery and gained many important battles, these victories have not produced the usual results. In many instances the defeated foe was not followed form the battle-field, and even where a pursuit was attempted, it almost invariably failed to effect the capture or destruction of any part of the retreating army. This is a matter which requires serious and careful consideration. A victorious army is supposed to be in condition to pursue its defeated foe with advantage, and during such pursuit to do him serious if not fatal injury. This result has usually been attained in other countries. Is there any reason why it should not be expected in this?

It is easily understood that in a country like that between Yorktown and Richmond, or the thickly-wooded swamps of Mississippi and Louisiana, a retreating force, by felling trees across the roads and destroying bridges over deep and marshy streams, can effectually prevent any rapid pursuit. The one in a a few minutes blocks up or destroys roads which the other cannot clear or repair for hours, or even days. The pursuer has very little hope of overtaking his flying foe. But this reasoning is not applicable to Maryland and the greater part of Virginia, Kentucky, and Middle Tennessee. It must be admitted that in these theaters of war the rebel armies have exhibited much more mobility and activity than our own. Not only do they outmarch us, both in advance and retreat, but on two memorable occasions their cavalry have made with impunity the entire circuit of the Army of the Potomac. If it be true that the success of an army depends upon its " arms and its legs," ours has shown itself deficient in the latter of these essential requisites. This defect has been attributed to our enormous baggage and supply trains, and to a want of training in making marches.

There is no doubt that the baggage trains of our armies have been excessively large. Every possible effort has been made within the last few weeks to reduce them, but this is no easy task. Once accustomed to a certain amount of transportation, an army is unwilling to do without the luxuries which it supplies in the field By the recent increase of the army ration, which was previously larger than in any other country, a considerable amount of transportation is employed in moving provisions and supplies which are not necessary for the subsistence of the soldiers.

An examination of the returns of the Quartermaster-General a few days since developed that fact that the Army of the Potomac, including the troops around Washington, most of which are without field trains, had 54,000 animals, and that 9,000 of these were employed in transporting ambulances and hospital stores. In addition to all this, the roads, streets, and wharves are encumbered with private vehicles used for the transportation of sutler's stores. No matter how large the main body of an army may be, it can never move rapidly with such a mass of impedimenta, and yet speculative projects are almost daily urged on the War Department to increase the immobility of our armies in the field. Again, our troops, especially those in the East, have been very little accustom dot marching-at least to that kind of marching usually required by active operations in the field.

Absenteeism is one of the most serious evils in all our armies. Hundreds of officers and thousands of men are almost continually away from their commands. Many of these are really stragglers and deserters. In regard to officers, the evil is being abated by summary dismissals, and if the law could be stringently enforced against the men, it would soon put an end to desertions. But straggling on the march and in


Page 6 OPERATIONS IN N. VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA. Chapter XXXI.

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