A Want of . . . Everything

May 29, 1861
Today, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell was finding out that his new command, the Army of Northeast Virginia, was not in very good shape.

The Long Bridge leading out of Washington D.C.

The army’s assignment was to protect the Arlington/Alexandria side of the Potomac River, across the Long Bridge from Washington D.C., and prepare for operations against  the Confederacy. McDowell, however, found that work on defenses was either lagging sorely behind schedule, or hadn’t even started.

McDowell reported to the War Department:

The works at Alexandria had not been commenced nor even laid out a late as 10 o’clock a. m. yesterday, nor had the plans been definitely determined upon. A want of tools in the first place, and in the second place of means of transportation for the men from the wharf in Alexandria to the hill to be fortified, and changes made necessary by a better knowledge of the ground, were the principal causes given for the delay.

McDowell continued:

The utter absence of any wagons on this side [of the Potomac], the want of means of communication on the part of some of the regiments, and the inexperience of most of the commanders, have caused the supplies to be irregularly and insufficiently furnished. One regiment has hired on its own account, out of private means, some wagons to procure its supplies. Forage has also been wanting.

Inexperience, bad communications, lack of transportation.  McDowell was discovering the truth about this army at the outset of war.  Simply, it was not prepared to fight. That truth would haunt him throughout his tenure as army commander.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 653-54.

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