From Bolivar Heights, on which our camp is pitched, we have a magnificent view of the Shenandoah valley, limited only by the distant horizon. Immediately across the river are the Loudon Heights, and there, perched up well in the clouds, are several batteries and a large force of infantry. The place is of great strength naturally, but requires a big garrison to hold it. Unless both heights many miles in extent are held, it is untenable, and I suppose Miles with his eleven or twelve thousand men, who surrendered so promptly to General Jackson, concluded it was useless to fight with his small command. It seems Miles retired from the heights on the approach of the enemy, and took shelter in the town, where he was absolutely powerless. As the general was killed, his apparently poor judgment and wretched defense will never be explained. But if the place had held out for twenty-four hours which seems quite possible, Franklin’s corps would have reached it from the Maryland side, and together they could not only have held the fort, but prevented Jackson from joining Lee at Antietam, which would very likely have resulted in Lee’s destruction. Miles probably knew nothing of the measures taken for his relief, but the result shows how imperatively necessary it is for all commanders of detached posts to hold on to the very death. What a chance Miles had for making a hero of himself!
Lee’s army is reported in the neighborhood of Winchester, and is believed to be wholly west of the Blue Ridge. No attempt, apparently, at present is to be made to renew the campaign, and so we are putting up our tents and forming regular camps. The losses have been so great, that few of the old regiments now exceed two hundred men each. The recruiting service is entirely out of joint, and does not furnish in six months as many men as we sometimes lose before breakfast. The total force of the army is maintained by raising new regiments, instead of filling up the old ones, and consequently half the men are inexperienced and useless. It is a wonder to me, that such a vital point should be overlooked by the Government, and no attempt made to keep the force up in quality as well as in numbers.
Another difficulty with the service is the lack of system in promotion. Excepting subaltern commissions, nearly all are obtained through influence at home. There are notable instances in my own regiment, where officers have been commissioned, directly in opposition to the colonel’s recommendation, and the seniority and rights of other officers.