General McClellan's Letter to the Army of the Potomac


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, March 29, 1862

We have made our extensive collection of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers available to your online. These papers have incredible content on the Civil War, including wood cut illustrations made by eye-witnesses to the historic events of the war.

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Saluting the Union Flag

The Union Flag

McClellan's Letter to the Army of the Potomac

McClellan to the Army of the Potomac

Fort Craig

Battle of Fort Craig

Columbus, Kentucky

Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge Battle

Captain Ericsson

Captain Ericsson Biography

John Ericsson

Picture of John Ericsson

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Batle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas

Battle of Pea Ridge

Fort Clinch

Civil War Battle Map

Civil War Battle Map

Centreville, Virginia

Centreville, Virginia

General McClellan at Bull Run










[MARCH 29, 1862.



THE Publishers of Harper's Weekly congratulate their readers upon the appearance in Number 272 of the first part of a new serial tale entitled "No NAME," by WILKIE COLLINS, Esq., author of "The Woman in White." Its opening gives promise of the same wonderful power and matchless dramatic skill which entranced the readers of "The Woman in White." It is seldom that a periodical is enabled to furnish its subscribers with such a series of attractive tales as have appeared consecutively for the past two years in Harper's Weekly, from the pens of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Bulwer. The commencement of this Tale affords a good opportunity for parties residing in the country to form clubs, and obtain Harper's Weekly at the reduced price of subscription.

The circulation of Harper's Weekly being now over 120,000 copies each week, it is the best advertising medium in the country.




ISLAND No. 10 is ours! It couldn't stand Commodore Foote's mortar-shelling, and seems to have surrendered after one day's fighting, abandoning to us quantities of stores, guns, ammunition, etc., which the rebels can not replace. How the garrison escaped, if they did escape, remains to be ascertained. Thus falls the second rebel strong-hold on the Mississippi.

The next is Randolph, which Commodore Foote will probably have assailed before this paper reaches the public eye. But meanwhile we have authentic intelligence that Generals Smith and M'Clernand are at Savannah, Tennessee, in the rear of Memphis and below Randolph, with the victorious army from Fort Donelson, probably 30,000 strong. Thus Randolph is flanked as Columbus was, and if the garrison fight unsuccessfully there, their escape is cut off. Will they not deem it wise to anticipate the inevitable event by another evacuation? And if they do, will not Memphis follow the example of Nashville before another week elapses?

At the hour we write; Commodore Porter, with a powerful flotilla of mortar and gun boats, is thundering at the gates of New Orleans. What resistance he will meet no one can tell. One account states that every adult in New Orleans is under arms, drilling daily under the traitor Mansfield Lovell, late of New York. Another says that there are not 8000 troops below Baton Rouge. It is stated that the rebels have one or two iron-clad rams there, which may, perhaps, if they are ready, run down two or three of the gun-boats. But of the final result of the attack there can be no reasonable doubt. New Orleans, like Nashville and Memphis, will object to be shelled, and early in April, if not late in March, Foote and Porter will shake hands under the glorious old flag in the Lower Mississippi.

Of movements nearer home it is not yet lawful to speak. General Joe Johnston has fallen back upon a new defensive line along the Rappahannock and Rapidan, and is waiting to be attacked. GENERAL McCLELLAN is in the field with an army which must be fully double that of Johnston, and is choosing his point of attack. Where that point will be, a few days will show. The public may rest assured that it will not be where the rebels expect it.

A leading foreign critic, describing the position of the hostile armies three months ago, PRONOUNCED THE LINE FROM NORFOLK, THROUGH MANASSAS AND BOWLING GREEN TO COLUMBUS, PERFECTLY IMPREGNABLE, and predicted that every attack made by GENERAL McCLELLAN upon that line would fail. He said that it was stronger than the famous Italian Quadrilateral. If any one had told him that within three months from that time Manassas, Bowling Green, and Columbus would be abandoned by the rebels without firing a gun, and that the garrisons would be scattering in dismay, without arms and without stores, throughout the South, he would probably have been less surprised than he will be to hear that the General whose genius has contrived these results is being savagely and brutally abused for his in competency by the New York Tribune.


THE following is an extract from an Order of the Day issued by General McClellan from Fairfax Court House on 14th instant:


For a long time I have kept you inactive, but not without a purpose. You were to be disciplined, armed, and instructed. The formidable artillery you now have had to be created. Other armies were to move and accomplish Certain results. I have held you back that you might give the death-blow to the rebellion that has distracted our once happy country.

The patience you have shown, and your confidence in your General, are worth a dozen victories. These preliminary results are now accomplished. I feel that the patient labors of many months have produced their fruit. The Army of the Potomac is now a real army, magnificent in material, admirable in discipline and instruction, and excellently equipped and armed. Your commanders are all that I could wish. The moment for action has arrived, and I know that I can trust in you to save our country. As I ride through your ranks I see in your faces the sure prestige of victory will do whatever I ask

of you. The period of inaction has passed. I will bring you now face to face with the rebels, and only pray that God may defend the right!

These words will thrill the heart of every soldier on the Potomac. McClellan, like Napoleon, is a believer in the efficacy of military eloquence: his addresses to his soldiers, from his first march into Western Virginia, are the true lyrics of the war. If you wish to ascertain wherein true eloquence consists, compare his addresses with the tawdry performances of Joe Johnson the rebel, "General" Howell Cobb, and the other military propagandists of slavery.

Lest any of the soldiers in the Army of the Potomac should be so weak of heart and mind as to be misled from the path of duty by the dastardly and atrocious attacks upon General McClellan which have garnished one or two despicable newspapers published in this city, the Major-General Commanding adds :

In whatever direction you may move, however strange my actions may appear to you, ever bear in mind that my fate is linked with yours, and that all I do is to bring you where I know you wish to be—on the decisive battlefield. It is my business to place you there.

I shall demand of you great, heroic exertions, rapid and long marches, desperate combats, privations perhaps. We will share all these together, and when this sad war is over we will all return to our homes, and feel that we can ask no higher honor than the proud consciousness that we belonged to the Army of the Potomac.

These brief, manly sentences fulfill the highest requirements of military eloquence. A single unanswerable argument disposes of the cavilers who have assailed McClellan with the weapon of their own ignorance: the closing appeal will rouse whatever is manly and noble and truly heroic in the breast of his troops.

None of Napoleon's justly famed "Orders" reveals a higher order of genius, or promises better results than this Address of General McClellan's.

If he can fight as well as he writes, the Army of the Potomac will win imperishable glory.


THE following letter is worth perusal:

WASHINGTON, March 15, 1862.

....Your New York papers are rather hard on Russell, of the London Doles, for his mistakes about this country and the singular ill-fortune which has attended his predictions. Yet I venture to say that the Doctor has been more sinned against than sinning. He is a genial, whole-souled Irishman, fond of good company, good liquor, and racy talk; as a writer, possessed of remarkable descriptive power and a thorough mastery of British newspaper slang; withal, not much given to do his own thinking, not a good judge of character, and not endowed with the faculty of analyzing the acts of men and nations, or finding the real causes of the events he witnesses. He is by trade a reporter, and a very good one. His misfortune has been that when he has been out of reach of his employers he has never known what to report, and has been the victim of any one who chose to impose upon him.

When he first arrived in New York he fell among foreign bankers, New York club men, and that exclusive circle of aristocrats whose foreign sympathies are so notorious, and who have no more understanding of or influence over the American mind than the Mandarins of Pekin. They told him—what they undoubtedly believed—that the Union was gone, and that the North would not fight: and he, poor man, wrote the whole to the Times to appear side by side with the accounts of the Great Uprising.

On his return from the South, warned by previous experience, he eschewed the commercial metropolis, and established his head-quarters here. Through the influence of Lord Lyons and some of our leading snobs he obtained ready admittance to our "best society," and from that time to this we have owned him and inspired his letters. Every idea, and many whole sentences in his recent letters he has picked up in conversation here.

You must understand that Washington is almost as Southern a city as Charleston. Though the number of slaves actually held here is small, the influence of the leading Southern men who have resided here, wholly or in part, for the past ten or twenty years, has been so marked that in no city of the Union is the slavery interest stronger, in good society, than in the Federal Capital. It is disreputable, in our leading circles, to object to the institution. In the estimation of our good families a Southerner is naturally a gentleman, a Northerner naturally a low fellow. There have been exceptions to the latter rule; as for instance our friend Mr. Bright, ex-Senator from Indiana, who was always welcome in good houses. But the rule itself has been so well established that I have known Northern men, after a short residence here, feel so ashamed of their origin that they not only pocketed their principles but tried to deny their birth-place. It is hardly necessary to add that our "best society," thus principled, is decidedly in favor of the South in the present contest. Our views in this respect harmonize admirably with those of the leading foreign ministers. The South has no better friends any where than M. Mercier, who represents France, and M. Stoeckel, who represents Russia. These gentlemen are noisy in their admiration of the rebels, and in their contemptuous pity for the deluded North. They were certain, before the affair at Fort Donelson, that the North could win no victory, and wrote as much to their courts. So did other foreign ministers. The whole feeling of the diplomatic corps has been so emphatically hostile to the United States that a man who was invited to a diplomatic dinner came away convinced that it was all up with the country, and that Europe was going to recognize the rebels early next morning.

Here you have the key to poor Bombastes' nonsense. He has merely repeated what he has heard any time those six or eight months in diplomatic and fashionable circles in this city.

It was in the power of General McClellan and the President to set him right; but they had other fish to fry. I suppose they are very sorry for him. Seward is, I'm sure!



"IT is very easy to say that slavery caused the rebellion. But why didn't you let slavery alone? Why were you always agitating? Why were you forever roaring and raving about slavery, which was none of your business ?"

Such is the secret question of many honest minds. But if they were as intelligent as they are honest they would not ask it. For slavery would always have been let alone by the country if it had let the country alone. If it had been content with its own proposition, that it was a local and a State institution, the country, confident that the Slave States would gradually be compelled to provide for its peaceful extinction, would have pitied and deplored, but it would not have divided politically upon the question.

But when slavery, claiming, on one side, for immunity, that it was a State affair, and on the other, for aggression, that it was established and protected by the National Constitution—in pursuance of that claim disputed upon the soil of New York the law of New York forbidding it—sought to occupy the Territories, and exclude and disgrace free white labor—and picked a quarrel with Mexico, and tried to pick another with Spain to get more slaves and more slave-territory, with consequent preferred slave-representation in Congress—repealed the most sacred compacts, and made the Supreme Court declare, without any case to decide, that slavery was lawful wherever the Constitution bound, then the country said, We must conquer slavery, or slavery will conquer us.

The laboring men—who are the great mass of the people—knowing that by their natural increase they and their children must look for homes to the fertile fields of the great Western Territories, saw that slavery disputed the ground; that the great slave-holders would engross vast estates to be covered with slaves; and that, in fact, slavery had its hand upon their bread-and-butter. The common sense of the laboring white men in the country saw that the slave-holders meant to fill their places in the new States with slaves. Consequently the slavery politicians at the North and the South vainly bawled themselves hoarse about State Rights, and the inferiority of the negroes, and their fitness to be slaves, and the wickedness of abolitionists who wanted to bring slaves to the North to fill the places of white laborers; for the mass of the people instinctively answered: "If it be a State affair, let it stay at home in the States: if the negroes are inferior, and born to be slaves, poor devils! we are sorry for them, but it's none of our business: it is a State affair: and as for the wicked abolitionists, why, is it any wickeder to fill our places with black men in the old States than in the new? You are trying to get hold of our future homes, and to disgrace the labor by which we live." And in every one of the Free States they spurned, by tremendous majorities, the transparent trick of slavery.

It was because slavery would not let the country alone, but was forever agitating it by frantic efforts to expand beyond its State limits, that the nation could not let it alone. When you leave a wolf alone that is smelling about your child's cradle—when you have a disease alone that is poisoning the springs of your life—then you may look to see a free people letting slavery alone when it is trying to take the bread out of their mouths, as well as to deprive them of political rights. For you will observe that the same party which supports the universal despotism of slavery, and its right to go wherever it chooses, is the same party which tries to show the great superiority of the condition of the slave to that of the free black at the North, or the white laborer in England, in order to establish its logical premise that capital ought to own labor.

Let it be fairly understood, then, that if slavery had not agitated there would have been no agitation. The sufferings of black men and the injustice of the system in any State of the Union would have been tolerated by the people of the other States, so long as they were not implicated, and so long as their rights were not threatened, as polygamy is tolerated in Turkey, or cannibalism in the Feejee Islands. But when the system struck at the rights, at the labor, at the very existence of free citizens beyond the limits of those States, they did just what they would do if the Turks should try to marry their sisters as collateral wives, or Feejee savages to eat their children for dessert. Slavery had stealthily struck at the country for years. In 1856 the country saw it clearly. In 1860 it put its heel upon it. In 1870 slavery will be a dried relic.


THE preceding remarks will be accepted by a courteous friend who writes to the Lounger, and signs himself "An Original Union Man of Baltimore," as partly a reply to his letter. The letter is candid and calm. The writer will understand that it is not possible to publish communications in this column, but will doubtless concede that the following is a fair summary of his points:

The letter is suggested by an article of the Lounger in No. 271, March 8, to the effect that henceforth either slavery or its agitation must be suppressed; and that, as the latter is impossible, the former must go to the wall.

The writer says that he holds no slaves, and

means to own none; yet he is sure that an effort suddenly to abolish slavery in the most moderate border States might lead to civil war, ruining both races in those States.

He would be glad to see some reasonable plan of gradual abolition in his own State. He says: "If slavery is to be removed there is no way for it, consistent with humanity, but to fix a day providing that all slaves born after that day shall be free on arriving at 21 or 25 years, if males; and 18 to 21, if females. By this gradual mode alone could there be preserved to the blacks the habit of labor. As one or another became free he would have around him, yet in servitude, his relatives and friends, and would be induced by their example to continue to work. If slavery is ever removed, the removal must begin in the most Northern of the Slave States, and its mode must be gradual; but no interference from without will ever bring it to pass. On the contrary, we know that the abolitionists, however well-meaning some of them may be, are practically the slave's worst enemies. As an objection to gradual emancipation, it may be said by the immediate abolitionist that, so soon as gradual emancipation was determined upon, many slaves would be sold South, and thus deprived of all advantage from the measure; but this difficulty would, of course, be provided against by the law of emancipation."

He then protests most earnestly against agitation outside of the Slave States, as delaying the result.

He complains of the Lounger's statement that Fort McHenry is the secret of the quiet of Baltimore as harsh, unmerited, untrue, and impolitic. "That troops are necessary to keep Maryland in her present position the writer does deny."

In reply, the Lounger will say that if this impending and inevitable discussion could be conducted in the spirit of this letter, we should all be gainers.

The writer and the Lounger are evidently agreed as to the general question.

As to the method of achieving the result, the writer will observe that the Lounger has not said that immediate and unconditional emancipation is desirable.

And as to agitation, the writer of the letter will find his answer in the preceding article.

The people of the free States, intelligent and obedient to law beyond precedent, when they saw the tendency and efforts of slavery, as a political power and industrial system, sought to arrest them by every peaceful means of free discussion. Obtaining the Government, they intended, by preventing its perversion, to establish liberty and not slavery as the national policy. It was a peaceful, lawful process—according to the spirit and letter of the Constitution, to the instincts of humanity, and to progressive civilization. The constitutional majority of the country intended nothing unlawful, nothing violent, nothing unfair, to any person or party. They believed that the Constitution was a charter of liberty, and not of privilege or slavery; and that the fair operation of the Government secured every right. With the system of slavery in the States they had no thought of meddling, although slavery had been tearing the country to pieces in its efforts to retain political supremacy. This perfectly lawful, peaceful policy of the great honest mass of the people, was entirely understood by the slavery leaders at the South and their sympathizers at the North. The restriction of slavery, its consequent amelioration and disappearance, was its logical result. With that went the political supremacy based upon the institution, and therefore the leaders struck at Sumter, hoping that the Democratic party at the North would be more partisan than patriotic. When the smoke of Sumter cleared away they saw that the hope had failed. Henceforward their doom was only a question of time.

Now a nation that has been roused to political action by the aggression of slavery—that has voted it out of supreme power—that has been forced by the military rebellion of slavery to load itself with a stupendous debt, and to strew the dead bodies of its loyal citizens across a continent, will no longer submit to the dictation and domination of slavery, nor will it have spent all the lives and the money for nothing. Henceforth the agitation which slavery has maintained for its extension and domination must cease, and forever; and the nation will certainly secure that result, or it will yield to the rebellion.

The Border States will decide as their wisdom suggests. They will encounter no unfair, no unreasonable, no unconstitutional opposition. Thousands of men in those States have been faithful, but they know that, even if they have counted the numerical majority, the working minority has been able to wrest Tennessee temporarily from the Union, and to blast other border States with fire and blood, and that those States have been held in the Union, not by their own citizens, but by United States volunteers. The people of those States will see that slavery, whether right or wrong, generates rebellion, and that so long as they are Slave States so long they will be the battle-field. If, then, they wish to be rid of the cause of trouble, the nation offers to help them. If they prefer that their fields shall still be battle-fields, they will so decide. If, with Mr. Wadsworth, of Kentucky, they elect to favor the rebellion rather than to listen to any emancipation even upon their own terms, the struggle will be prolonged and embittered, but its event must be the same.

If now the Lounger's courteous and candid correspondent in Baltimore will do all that he can to repress the efforts of slavery to convulse the country by seeking to extend itself, and within his own State will vigorously agitate for some wise system of emancipation, he will be doing a patriotic duty. But manifestly, while slavery continues to threaten the people of the Free States politically, industrially, and with arms, those people must defend themselves in every possible way; and a most agitated agitation is inevitable until peace is not only conquered but secured.




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