“Exclusive of the water line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is, by the route that you can, and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march? His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his.
“You know I desired, but did not order you, to cross the Potomac below, instead of above, the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. The idea was that this would at once menace the enemy’s communications, which I would seize, if he would permit. If he should move northward, I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move towards Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say, try; if we never try, we shall never succeed. If he makes a stand at Winchester, moving neither north nor south, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we cannot beat him when he bears the wastage of coming to us, we never can when we bear the wastage of going to him. This proposition is a simple truth, and is too important to be lost sight of for a moment. In coming to us, he tenders us an advantage which we should not waive. We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere, or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us than far away. If we cannot beat the enemy where he now is, we never can, he again being within the intrenchments of Richmond.
“Recurring to the idea of going to Richmond on the inside track, the facility for supplying from the side away from the enemy is remarkable, as it were by the different spokes of a wheel extending from the hub towards the rim; and this, whether you moved directly by the chord or on the inside arc, hugging the Blue Ridge more closely. The chord line, as you see, carries you by Aldie, Haymarket, and Fredericksburg, and you see how turnpikes, railroads, and finally the Potomac, by Acquia Creek, meet you at all points from Washington. The same, only the lines lengthened a little, if you press closer to the Blue Ridge part of the way. The Gaps through the Blue Ridge, I understand to be about the following distances from Harper’s Ferry, to wit: Vestala, five miles; Gregory’s, thirteen; Snicker’s, eighteen; Ashby’s, twenty-eight; Manassas, thirty-eight; Chester, forty-five; and Thornton’s, fifty-three. I should think it preferable to take the route nearest the enemy, disabling him to make an important move without your knowledge, and compelling him to keep his forces together for dread of you. The Gaps would enable you to attack if you should wish. For a great part of the way you would be practically between the enemy and both Washington and Richmond, enabling us to spare you the greatest number of troops from here. When, at length, running for Richmond ahead of him enables him to move this way, if he does so, turn and attack him in rear. But I think he should be engaged long before such point is reached. It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy, and it is unmanly to say they cannot do it. This letter is in no sense an order.”