Chapter 12


This Site:

Civil War

Civil War Overview

Civil War 1861

Civil War 1862

Civil War 1863

Civil War 1864

Civil War 1865

Civil War Battles

Confederate Generals

Union Generals

Confederate History

Robert E. Lee

Civil War Medicine

Lincoln Assassination


Site Search

Civil War Links


Civil War Art

Revolutionary War

Mexican War

Republic of Texas


Winslow Homer

Thomas Nast

Mathew Brady

Western Art

Civil War Gifts

Robert E. Lee Portrait

 Up | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26 | Appendix A | Appendix B



Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps


APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863  



 McClellan's visits to my position--Riding the lines--Discussing the past campaign--The withdrawal from the James--Prophecy--McClellan and the soldiers--He is in command of the defences--Intricacy of official relations--Reorganization begun--Pope's army marches through our works--Meeting of McClellan and Pope--Pope's characteristics--Undue depreciation of him--The situation when Halleck was made General-in-Chief--Pope's part in it--Reasons for dislike on the part of the Potomac Army--McClellan's secret service--Deceptive information of the enemy's force--Information from prisoners and citizens--Effects of McClellan's illusion as to Lee's strength--Halleck's previous career--Did he intend to take command in the field?--His abdication of the field command--The necessity for a union of forces in Virginia--McClellan's inaction was Lee's opportunity--Slow transfer of the Army of the Potomac--Halleck burdened with subordinate's work--Burnside twice declines the command--It is given to McClellan--Pope relieved--Other changes in organization--Consolidation--New campaign begun.

 On Sunday, the 31st, McClellan rode over to Upton's Hill and spent most of the day with me. He brought me a copy of the McDowell map of the country about Washington, the compilation of which had been that officer's first work at the beginning of hostilities. It covered the region to and beyond the Bull Run battlefield, and although not wholly accurate, it was approximately so, and was the only authority relied upon for topographical details of the region. McClellan's primary purpose was to instruct me as to the responsibilities that might fall upon me if the army should be driven in. A day or two later I received formal orders to prepare to destroy buildings in front within my lines of artillery fire, and to be ready to cover the retreat of our army should any part be driven back near my position. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 802, 805.] All this, however, had been discussed with McClellan himself. We rode together over all the principal points in the neighborhood, and he pointed out their relation to each other and to positions on the map which we did not visit. The discussion of the topography led to reminiscences of the preceding year,--of the manner in which the enemy had originally occupied these hills, and of their withdrawal from them,--of the subsequent construction of the forts and connecting lines, who occupied them all, and the system of mutual support, of telegraphic communication, and of plans for defence in case of attack.

McClellan had received me at Alexandria on the 27th with all his old cordiality, and had put me at once upon our accustomed footing of personal friendship. On my part, there was naturally a little watchfulness not to overstep the proper line of subordination or to be inquisitive about things he did not choose to confide to me; but, this being assumed, I found myself in a circle where he seemed to unbosom himself with freedom. I saw no interruption in this while I remained in the Potomac Army. He was, at this time, a little depressed in manner, feeling keenly his loss of power and command, but maintaining a quiet dignity that became him better than any show of carelessness would have done. He used no bitter or harsh language in criticising others. Pope and McDowell he plainly disliked, and rated them low as to capacity for command; but he spoke of them without discourtesy or vilification. I think it necessary to say this because of the curious sidelight thrown on his character by the private letters to his wife which have since been published in his "Own Story," and of which I shall have more to say. Their inconsistency with his expressions and manner in conversation, or at least their great exaggeration of what he conveyed in familiar talk, has struck me very forcibly and unpleasantly.

He discussed his campaign of the peninsula with apparent unreserve. He condemned the decision to recall him from Harrison's Landing, arguing that the one thing to do in that emergency was to reinforce his army there and make it strong enough to go on with its work and capture Richmond. He said that if the government had lost confidence in his ability to conduct the campaign to a successful end, still it was unwise to think of anything else except to strengthen that army and give it to some one they could trust. He added explicitly, "If Pope was the man they had faith in then Pope should have been sent to Harrison's Landing to take command, and however bitter it would have been, I should have had no just reason to complain." He predicted that they would yet be put to the cost of much life and treasure to get back to the position left by him.

On Monday, September 1st, he visited me again, and we renewed our riding and our conversation. The road from his headquarters encampment near Alexandria to Upton's Hill was a pleasant one for his "constitutional" ride, and my position was nearest the army in front where news from it would most likely be first found. The Army of the Potomac had all passed to the front from Alexandria, and according to the letter of the orders issued, he was wholly without command; though Halleck personally directed him to exercise supervision over all detachments about the works and lines. He came almost alone on these visits, an aide and an orderly or two being his only escort. Colonel Colburn of his staff was usually his companion. He wore a blue flannel hunting-shirt quite different from the common army blouse. It was made with a broad yoke at the neck, and belt at the waist, the body in plaits. He was without sash or side arms, or any insignia of rank except inconspicuous shoulder-straps. On this day he was going into Washington, and I rode down with him to the bridge. Bodies of troops of the new levies were encamped at different points near the river. In these there seemed to be always some veterans or officers who knew the general, and the men quickly gathered in groups and cheered him. He had a taking way of returning such salutations. He went beyond the formal military salute, and gave his cap a little twirl, which with his bow and smile seemed to carry a little of personal good fellowship even to the humblest private soldier. If the cheer was repeated, he would turn in his saddle and repeat the salute. It was very plain that these little attentions to the troops took well, and had no doubt some influence in establishing a sort of comradeship between him and them. They were part of an attractive and winning deportment which adapted itself to all sorts and ranks of men.

On Tuesday he came a little later in the day, and I noticed at once a change in his appearance. He wore his yellow sash with sword and belt buckled over it, and his face was animated as he greeted me with "Well, General, I am in command again!" I congratulated him with hearty earnestness, for I was personally rejoiced at it. I was really attached to him, believed him to be, on the whole, the most accomplished officer I knew, and was warmly disposed to give him loyal friendship and service. He told me of his cordial interview with President Lincoln, and that the latter had said he believed him to be the only man who could bring organized shape out of the chaos in which everything seemed then to be. The form of his new assignment to duty was that he was to "have command of the fortifications of Washington, and of all the troops for the defence of the capital." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 807.] The order was made by the personal direction of the President, and McClellan knew that Secretary Stanton did not approve of it. General Halleck seemed glad to be rid of a great responsibility, and accepted the President's action with entire cordiality. Still, he was no doubt accurate in writing to Pope later that the action was that of the President alone without any advice from him. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 820.] McClellan was evidently and entirely happy in his personal relation to things. He had not been relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, though the troops had passed temporarily to Pope's army. As commandant of all within the defences, his own army reported to him directly when they came within our lines. Pope's army of northern Virginia would, of course, report through its commander, and Burnside's in a similar way. The first thing to be done was to get the army in good condition, to strengthen its corps by the new regiments which were swarming toward the capital, and to prepare it for a new campaign. McClellan seemed quite willing to postpone the question who would command when it took the field. Of the present he was sure. It was in his own hands, and the work of reorganization was that in which his prestige was almost sure to increase. This attitude was plainly shown in all he said and in all he hinted at without fully saying it.

Halleck had already directed Pope to bring the army within the fortifications, though the latter had vainly tried to induce him to ride out toward Centreville, to see the troops and have a consultation there before determining what to do. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 796.] We were therefore expecting the head of column to approach my lines, and I arranged that we should be notified when they came near. McClellan had already determined to put the corps and divisions of the Army of the Potomac in the works, at positions substantially the same as they had occupied a year before,--Porter near Chain Bridge, Sumner next, Franklin near Alexandria, etc. I was directed to continue in the position I already occupied, to be supported by part of McDowell's corps.

About four o'clock McClellan rode forward, and I accompanied him. We halted at the brow of the hill looking down the Fairfax road. The head of the column was in sight, and rising dust showed its position far beyond. Pope and McDowell, with the staff, rode at the head. Their uniform and that of all the party was covered with dust, their beards were powdered with it; they looked worn and serious, but alert and self-possessed. When we met, after brief salutations, McClellan announced that he had been ordered to assume command within the fortifications, and named to General Pope the positions the several corps would occupy. This done, both parties bowed, and the cavalcade moved on. King's division of McDowell's corps was the leading one, General Hatch, the senior brigadier, being in command by reason of King's illness. Hatch was present, near Pope, when McClellan assumed command, and instantly turning rode a few paces to the head of his column and shouted, "Boys, McClellan is in command again; three cheers!" The cheers were given with wild delight, and were taken up and passed toward the rear of the column. Warm friend of McClellan as I was, I felt my flesh cringe at the unnecessary affront to the unfortunate commander of that army. But no word was spoken. Pope lifted his hat in a parting salute to McClellan and rode quietly on with his escort. [Footnote: General Hatch had been in command of the cavalry of Banks's corps up to the battle of Cedar Mountain, when he was relieved by Pope's order by reason of dissatisfaction with his handling of that arm of the service. His assignment to a brigade of infantry in King's division was such a reduction of his prominence as an officer that it would not be strange if it chafed him.]

McClellan remained for a time, warmly greeted by the passing troops. He then left me, and rode off toward Vienna, northward. According to my recollection, Colonel Colburn was the only member of his staff with him; they had a small cavalry escort. My understanding also was that they proposed to return by Chain Bridge, avoiding the crowding of the road on which they had come out, and on which McDowell's corps was now moving. In his "Own Story" McClellan speaks of going in that direction to see the situation of Sumner's troops, supposed to be attacked, and intimates a neglect on Pope's part of a duty in that direction. I am confident he is mistaken as to this, and that I have given the whole interview between him and Pope. The telegraphic connection with my headquarters was such that he could learn the situation in front of any part of the line much more promptly there than by riding in person. Lee did not pursue, in fact, beyond Fairfax C. H. and Centreville, and nothing more than small bodies of cavalry were in our vicinity. I had kept scouting-parties of our own cavalry active in our front, and had also collected news from other sources. On the 1st of September I had been able to send to army headquarters authentic information of the expectation of the Confederate army to move into Maryland, and every day thereafter added to the evidence of that purpose, until they actually crossed the Potomac on the 5th. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. ii. pp. 404, 405; vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 170; vol. li. pt. i. p. 777.]

Hatch's division was put into the lines on my left with orders to report to me in case of attack. Patrick's brigade of that division was next day placed near Falls Church in support of my cavalry, reporting directly to me. My two regiments which had been with Pope rejoined the division, and made it complete again. The night of the 2d was one in which I was on the alert all night, as it was probable the enemy would disturb us then if ever; but it passed quietly. A skirmish in our front on the Vienna road on the 4th was the only enlivening event till we began the campaign of South Mountain and Antietam on the 6th.  Pope's proposed reorganization of his army, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 810.] which would have put me with most of Sigel's corps under Hooker, was prevented by a larger change which relieved him of command and consolidated his army with that of the Potomac on September 5th. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 813.] I had a very slight acquaintance with Pope at the beginning of the war, but no opportunity of increasing it till he assumed command in Virginia and I reported to him as a subordinate. The events just sketched had once more interfered with my expected association with him, and I did not meet him again till long afterward. Then I came to know him well. His wife and the wife of my intimate friend General Force were sisters, and in Force's house we often met. He was then broken in health and softened by personal afflictions. [Footnote: Mrs. Pope and Mrs. Force were daughters of the Hon. V. B. Horton, of Pomeroy, Ohio, a public man of solid influence and character, and prominent in the development of the coal and salt industries of the Ohio valley. I leave the text as I wrote it some years before General Pope's death. Since he died, the friendship of our families has culminated in a marriage between our children.] His reputation in 1861 was that of an able and energetic man, vehement and positive in character, apt to be choleric and even violent toward those who displeased him. I remember well that I shrunk a little from coming under his immediate orders through fear of some chafing, though I learned in the army that choleric commanders, if they have ability, are often warmly appreciative of those who serve them with soldierly spirit and faithfulness. No one who had any right to judge questioned Pope's ability or his zeal in the National cause. His military career in the West had been a brilliant one. The necessity for uniting the columns in northern Virginia into one army was palpable; but it was a delicate question to decide who should command them. It seems to have been assumed by Mr. Lincoln that the commander must be a new man,--neither Fremont, McDowell, nor Banks. The reasons were probably much the same as those which later brought Grant and Sheridan from the West.

Pope's introduction to the Eastern army, which I have already mentioned, was an unfortunate one; but neither he nor any one else could have imagined the heat of partisan spirit or the lengths it would run. No personal vilification was too absurd to be credited, and no characterization was too ridiculous to be received as true to the life. It was assumed that he had pledged himself to take Richmond with an army of 40,000 men when McClellan had failed to do so with 100,000. His defeat by Lee was taken to prove him contemptible as a commander, by the very men who lauded McClellan for having escaped destruction from the same army. There was neither intelligence nor consistency in the vituperation with which he was covered; but there was abundant proof that the wounded _amour propre_ of the officers and men of the Potomac Army made them practically a unit in intense dislike and distrust of him. It may be that this condition of things destroyed his possibility of usefulness at the East; but it would be asking too much of human nature (certainly too much of Pope's impetuous nature) to ask him to take meekly the office of scapegoat for the disastrous result of the whole campaign. His demand on Halleck that he should publish the approval he had personally given to the several steps of the movements and combats from Cedar Mountain to Chantilly was just, but it was imprudent. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 812, 821.] Halleck was irritated, and made more ready to sacrifice his subordinate. Mr. Lincoln was saddened and embarrassed; but being persuaded that Pope's usefulness was spoiled, he swallowed his own pride and sense of justice, and turned again to McClellan as the resource in the emergency of the moment.

Pope seems to me entirely right in claiming that Jackson's raid to Manassas was a thing which should have resulted in the destruction of that column. He seems to have kept his head, and to have prepared his combinations skilfully for making Jackson pay the penalty of his audacity. There were a few hours of apparent hesitation on August 28th, but champions of McClellan should be the last to urge that against him. His plans were deranged on that day by the accident of McDowell's absence from his own command. This happened through an excess of zeal on McDowell's part to find his commander and give him the benefit of his knowledge of the topography of the country; yet it proved a serious misfortune, and shows how perilous it is for any officer to be away from his troops, no matter for what reason. Many still think Porter's inaction on the 29th prevented the advantage over Jackson from becoming a victory. [Footnote: I have treated this subject at large in "The Second Battle of Bull Run as connected with the Fitz-John Porter Case."] But after all, when the army was united within our lines, the injuries it had inflicted on the enemy so nearly balanced those it had received that if Grant or Sherman had been in Halleck's place, Lee would never have crossed the Potomac into Maryland. McClellan, Pope, and Burnside would have commanded the centre and wings of the united and reinforced army, and under a competent head it would have marched back to the Rappahannock with scarcely a halt.

That Halleck was in command was, in no small measure, Pope's own work. He reminded Halleck of this in his letter of September 30th, written when he was chafing under the first effects of his removal. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 816, etc.] "If you desire," said he, "to know the personal obligation to which I refer, I commend you to the President, the Secretary of War, or any other member of the administration. Any of these can satisfy your inquiries." This means that he had, before the President and the cabinet, advocated putting Halleck in supreme command over himself and McClellan to give unity to a campaign that would else be hopelessly broken down. McClellan was then at Harrison's Landing, believing Lee's army to be 200,000 strong, and refusing to listen to any suggestion except that enormous reinforcements should be sent to him there. He had taught the Army of the Potomac to believe implicitly that the Confederate army was more than twice as numerous as it was in fact. With this conviction it was natural that they should admire the generalship which had saved them from annihilation. They accepted with equal faith the lessons which came to them from headquarters teaching that the "radicals" at Washington were trying for political ends to destroy their general and them. In regard to the facts there were varying degrees of intelligence among officers and men; but there was a common opinion that they and he were willingly sacrificed, and that Pope, the radical, was to succeed him. This made them hate Pope, for the time, with holy hatred. If the army could at that time have compared authentic tables of strength of Lee's army and their own, the whole theory would have collapsed at once, and McClellan's reputation and popularity with it. They did not have the authentic tables, and fought for a year under the awful cloud created by a blundering spy-system.

The fiction as to Lee's forces is the most remarkable in the history of modern wars. Whether McClellan was the victim or the accomplice of the inventions of his "secret service," we cannot tell. It is almost incredible that he should be deceived, except willingly. I confess to a contempt for all organizations of spies and detectives, which is the result of my military experience. The only spies who long escape are those who work for both sides. They sell to each what it wants, and suit their wares to the demand. Pinkerton's man in the rebel commissariat at Yorktown who reported 119,000 rations issued daily, laughed well in his sleeve as he pocketed the secret service money. [Footnote: For Pinkerton's reports, see Official Records, vol. xi. pt. i. pp. 264-272.]

A great deal of valuable information may be got from a hostile population, for few men or women know how to hold their tongues, though they try never so honestly. A friendly population overdoes its information, as a rule. I had an excellent example of this in the Kanawha valley. After I had first advanced to Gauley Bridge, the Secessionists behind me were busy sending to the enemy all they could learn of my force. We intercepted, among others, a letter from an intelligent woman who had tried hard to keep her attention upon the organization of my command as it passed her house. In counting my cannon, she had evidently taken the teams as the easiest units to count, and had set down every caisson as a gun, with the battery-forge thrown in for an extra one. In a similar way, every accidental break in the marching column was counted as the head of a new regiment. She thus, in perfect good faith, doubled my force, and taught me that such information to the enemy did them more harm than good.

As to the enemy's organization and numbers, the only information I ever found trustworthy is that got by contact with him. No day should pass without having some prisoners got by "feeling the lines." These, to secure treatment as regular prisoners of war, must always tell the company and regiment to which they belong. Rightly questioned, they rarely stop there, and it is not difficult to get the brigade, division, etc. The reaction from the dangers with which the imagination had invested capture, to the commonly good-humored hospitality of the captors, makes men garrulous of whom one would not expect it. General Pope's chief quartermaster, of the rank of colonel, was captured by Stuart's cavalry in this very campaign; and since the war I have read with amazement General Lee's letters to President Davis, to the Secretary of War at Richmond, and to General Loring in West Virginia, dated August 23d, in which he says: [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. ii. pp. 940-941.] "General Stuart reports that General Pope's chief quartermaster, who was captured last night, positively asserts that Cox's troops are being withdrawn by the way of Wheeling." Of course Lee suggests the importance of "pushing things" in the Kanawha valley. Stuart thus knew my movement on the day I left Parkersburg.

Even when the captured person tells nothing he is bound to conceal, enough is necessarily known to enable a diligent provost-marshal to construct a reasonably complete roster of the enemy in a short time. In the Atlanta campaign I always carried a memorandum book in which I noted and corrected all the information of this sort which came to me, and by comparing this with others and with the lists at General Sherman's headquarters, there was no difficulty in keeping well up in the enemy's organization. It may therefore be said that every commanding officer ought to know the divisions and brigades of his enemy. The strength of a brigade is fairly estimated from the average of our own, for in people of similar race and education, the models of organization are essentially the same, and subject to the same causes of diminution during a campaign. Such considerations as these leave no escape from the conclusion that McClellan's estimates of Lee's army were absolutely destructive of all chances of success, and made it impossible for the President or for General Halleck to deal with the military problem before them. That he had continued this erroneous counting for more than a year, and through an active campaign in the field, destroyed every hope of correcting it. The reports of the peninsular campaign reveal, at times, the difficulty there was in keeping up the illusion. The known divisions in the Confederate army would not account for the numbers attributed to them, and so these divisions occasionally figure in our reports as "grand divisions." [Footnote: In his dispatch to Halleck on the morning after South Mountain (September 15), D. H. Hill's division is called a corps. Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 294.] That the false estimate was unnecessary is proven by the fact that General Meigs, in Washington, on July 28th, made up an estimate from the regiments, brigades, etc., mentioned in the newspapers that got through the lines, which was reasonably accurate. But McClellan held Meigs for an enemy. [Footnote: General Meigs found ninety regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry, and five batteries of artillery designated by name in the "Confederate" newspaper reports of the seven days' battles. Comparing this with other information from similar sources, he concluded that Lee had about one hundred and fifty regiments. These, at 700 men each, would make 105,000, or at 400 (which he found a full average) the gross of the infantry would be 60,000. General Webb, with official documents before him, puts it at 70,000 to 80,000. Does one need better evidence how much worse than useless was McClellan's secret service? See Official Records, vol. xi. pt. iii. p. 340.] When I joined McClellan at Washington, I had no personal knowledge of either army except as I had learned it from the newspapers. My predilections in favor of McClellan made me assume that his facts were well based, as they ought to have been. I therefore accepted the general judgment of himself and his intimate friends as to his late campaign and Pope's, and believed that his restoration to command was an act of justice to him and of advantage to the country. I did not stay long enough with that army to apply any test of my own to the question of relative numbers, and have had to correct my opinions of the men and the campaigns by knowledge gained long afterward. I however used whatever influence I had to combat the ideas in McClellan's mind that the administration meant to do him any wrong, or had any end but the restoration of National unity in view.

Whether Halleck was appointed on Pope's urgent recommendation or no, his campaign in the West was the ground of his promotion. The advance from the Ohio to Fort Donelson, to Nashville, to Shiloh, and to Corinth had been under his command, and he deservedly had credit for movements which had brought Kentucky and Tennessee within the Union lines. He had gone in person to the front after the battle of Shiloh, and though much just criticism had been made of his slow digging the way to Corinth by a species of siege operations, he had at any rate got there. Mr. Lincoln was willing to compromise upon a slow advance upon Richmond, provided it were sure and steady. Halleck's age and standing in the army were such that McClellan himself could find no fault with his appointment, if any one were to be put over him.

Everything points to the expectation, at the time of his appointment, that Halleck would assume the personal command in the field. He visited McClellan at Harrison's Landing on July 25th, however, and promised him that if the armies should be promptly reunited, he (McClellan) should command the whole, with Burnside and Pope as his subordinates. [Footnote: McC. Own Story, p. 474; Official Records, vol. xi. pt. iii. p. 360.] That he did not inform Pope of this abdication of his generalship in the field is plain from Pope's correspondence during the campaign. It is made indisputably clear by Pope's letter to him of the 25th of August. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xii. pt. ii. pp. 65, 66.] He probably did not tell the President or Mr. Stanton of it. He seems to have waited for the union of the parts of the army, and when that came his prestige was forever gone, and he had become, what he remained to the close of the war, a bureau officer in Washington. He had ordered the transfer of the Potomac Army from the James to Acquia Creek, intending to unite it with Burnside's at Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg, and thus begin a fresh advance from the line of the Rappahannock. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. ii. p. 5; vol. xi. pt. i. pp. 80-84; _Id_., pt. iii. p. 337.] He believed, and apparently with reason, that ten days was sufficient to complete this transfer with the means at McClellan's disposal, but at the end of ten days the movement had not yet begun. [Footnote: The order was given August 3; the movement began August 14. _Id_., pt. i. pp. 80, 89.] He was right in thinking that the whole army should be united. McClellan thought the same. The question was where and how. McClellan said, "Send Pope's men to me." Halleck replied that it would not do to thus uncover Washington. McClellan had said that vigorous advance upon the enemy by his army and a victory would best protect the capital. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xii. pt. ii. pp. 9, 10.] Again he was right, but he seemed incapable of a vigorous advance. Had he made it when he knew (on July 30) that Jackson had gone northward with thirty thousand men to resist Pope's advance, his army would not have been withdrawn. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xi. pt. iii. p. 342.] He was then nearly twice as strong as Lee, but he did not venture even upon a forced reconnoissance. The situation of the previous year was repeated. He was allowing himself to be besieged by a fraction of his own force. Grant would have put himself into the relation to McClellan which he sustained to Meade in 1864, and would have infused his own energy into the army. Halleck did not do this. It would seem that he had become conscious of his own lack of nerve in the actual presence of an enemy, and looked back upon his work at St. Louis in administering his department, whilst Grant and Buell took the field, with more satisfaction than upon his own advance from Shiloh to Corinth. He seemed already determined to manage the armies from his office in Washington and assume no responsibility for their actual leadership.

When the Army of the Potomac was arriving at Alexandria, another crisis occurred in which a single responsible head in the field was a necessity. McClellan had been giving a continuous demonstration, since August 4th, how easy it is to thwart and hinder any movement whilst professing to be accomplishing everything that is possible. No maxim in war is better founded in experience than that a man who believes that a plan is sure to fail should never be set to conduct it. McClellan had written that Pope would be beaten before the Army of the Potomac could be transferred to him, and Pope was beaten. [Footnote: Halleck to McClellan, August 10 and 12, and McClellan's reply: Official Records, vol. xi. pt. i. pp. 86-88. See also O. S., p. 466.] The only chance for any other result was for Halleck himself to conduct the transfer. If Halleck meant that Franklin should have pushed out to Manassas on the 27th of August, he should have taken the field and gone with the corps. He did not know and could not know how good or bad McClellan's excuses were, and nothing but his own presence, with supreme power, could certainly remove the causes for delay. He wrote to Pope that he could not leave Washington, when he ought not to have been in Washington. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 797.] He worked and worried himself ill trying to make McClellan do what he should have done himself, and then, overwhelmed with details he should never have burdened himself with, besought his subordinate to relieve him of the strain by practically taking command. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 691; vol. xi. pt. i. p. 103.]

As soon as McClellan began the movement down the James, Lee took Longstreet's corps to Jackson, leaving only D. H. Hill's at Richmond. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. pp. 177, 552.] From that moment McClellan could have marched anywhere. He could have marched to Fredericksburg and joined Pope, and Halleck could have met them with Burnside's troops. But the vast imaginary army of the Confederacy paralyzed everything, and the ponderous task of moving the Army of the Potomac and its enormous material by water to Washington went on. The lifeless and deliberate way in which it went on made it the 1st of September when Sumner and Franklin reached Centreville, and the second battle of Bull Run had ended in defeat on the evening before.

But the army was at last reunited, within the fortifications of Washington, it is true, and not on the James or on the line of the Rappahannock. There was another opportunity given to Halleck to put himself at its head, with McClellan, Pope, and Burnside for his three lieutenants. Again he was unequal to his responsibility. Mr. Lincoln saw his feebleness, and does not seem to have urged him. Halleck was definitely judged in the President's mind, though the latter seems to have clung to the idea that he might be useful by allowing him to assume the role he chose, and confine himself to mere suggestions and to purely routine work. Pope's unpopularity with the army was adopted by popular clamor, which always finds a defeated general in the wrong. The President, in real perplexity, compromised by assigning McClellan to command for the purpose of organizing, a work in which he was admitted by all to be able. The command in the field was a second time offered to Burnside, who declined it, warmly advocating McClellan's claims and proving his most efficient friend. [Footnote: C. W., vol. i. p. 650.] Within three days from the time I had ridden with McClellan to meet the retreating army, the enemy had crossed the Potomac, and decision could not be postponed. The President met McClellan, and told him in person that he was assigned to command in the field. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 453; Official Records, vol. xi. pt. i. p. 103.]

On the 5th of September Halleck had sent to McClellan a confidential note, telling of the President's action relieving Pope, and anticipating the issue of formal orders: [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 182.] "The President has directed that General Pope be relieved and report to the War Department; that Hooker be assigned to command of Porter's corps, and that Franklin's corps be temporarily attached to Heintzelman's. The orders will be issued this afternoon. Generals Porter and Franklin are to be relieved from duty till the charges against them are examined. I give you this memorandum in advance of orders, so that you may act accordingly in putting forces in the field." Later in the same day Halleck sent to McClellan the opinion that the enemy was without doubt crossing the Potomac, and said, "If you agree with me, let our troops move immediately." The formal order to Pope was: "The armies of the Potomac and Virginia being consolidated, you will report for orders to the Secretary of War." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 183.] Pope had caused charges to be preferred against Porter and Franklin, and had accused McClellan of wilfully delaying reinforcements and so causing his defeat. His indignation that the interpretation of affairs given by McClellan and his friends should be made into public opinion by the apparent acquiescence of Halleck and the administration overcame his prudence. Had he controlled his feelings and schooled himself into patience, he would hardly have been relieved from active service, and his turn would probably have come again. As it stood, the President saw that McClellan and Pope could not work together, and the natural outcome was that he retired Pope, so that McClellan should not have it to say that he was thwarted by a hostile subordinate. McClellan himself was so manifestly responsible for Franklin's movements from the 27th to the 30th of August, that it was a matter of course that when the chief was assigned to command the condonation should cover the subordinate, and at McClellan's request Franklin was allowed to take the field at once. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. pp. 190, 197.] A few days later he urged the same action in Porter's case, and it was done. Porter joined the army at South Mountain on the 14th of September. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 190, 254, 289.] The same principle demanded that McDowell, who was obnoxious to McClellan, should be relieved, and this was also done. As an ostensible reason for the public, McDowell's request for a Court of Inquiry upon his own conduct was assumed to imply a desire to be relieved from the command of his corps. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 188, 189, 197.] But the court was not assembled till the next winter. McDowell had been maligned almost as unscrupulously as Pope. A total abstainer from intoxicating drinks, he was persistently described as a drunkard, drunken upon the field of battle. One of the most loyal and self-forgetting of subordinates, he was treated as if a persistent intriguer for command. A brave and competent soldier, he was believed to be worthless and untrustworthy. As between Halleck, McClellan, and Pope, the only one who had fought like a soldier and manoeuvred like a general was sent to the northwestern frontier to watch the petty Indian tribes, carrying the burden of others' sins into the wilderness. Mr. Lincoln's sacrifice of his sense of justice to what seemed the only expedient in the terrible crisis, was sublime. McClellan commanded the army, and Porter and Franklin each commanded a corps. If the country was to be saved, confidence and power could not be bestowed by halves.

In his "Own Story" McClellan speaks of the campaign in Maryland as made "with a halter round his neck," [Footnote: O. S., p. 551.] meaning that he had no real command except of the defences of Washington, and that he marched after Lee without authority, so that, if unsuccessful, he might have been condemned for usurpation of command. It would be incredible that he adopted such a mere illusion, if he had not himself said it. It proves that some at least of the strange additions to history which he thus published had their birth in his own imagination brooding over the past, and are completely contradicted by the official records. [Footnote: This illusion, at least, is shown to be of later origin by his telegram to his wife of September 7. "I leave here this afternoon," he says, "to take command of the troops in the field. The feeling of the government towards me, I am sure, is kind and trusting. I hope, with God's blessing, to justify the great confidence they now repose in me, and will bury the past in oblivion." O. S., p. 567.] The consolidation of the armies under him was, in fact, a promotion, since it enlarged his authority and committed to him the task that properly belonged to Halleck as general-in-chief. For a few days, beginning September 1st, McClellan's orders and correspondence were dated "Headquarters, Washington," because no formal designation had been given to the assembled forces at the capital. When he took the field at Rockville on the 8th of September, he assumed, as he had the right to do in the absence of other direction from the War Department, that Burnside's and Pope's smaller armies were lost in the larger Army of the Potomac by the consolidation, and resumed the custom of dating his orders and dispatches from "Headquarters, Army of the Potomac," from the command of which he had never been removed, even when its divisions were temporarily separated from him. [Footnote: On August 31st Halleck had written to him, "You will retain the command of everything in this vicinity not temporarily belonging to Pope's army in the field;" and in the general order issued August 30, McClellan's command of the Army of the Potomac is affirmed. Official Records, vol. xi. pt. i. p. 103; _Id_., vol. li. pt. i. p. 775.] The defences of Washington were now entrusted to Major-General Banks, strictly in subordination, however, to himself. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. pp. 202, 214.] The official record of authority and command is consistent and perfect, and his notion in his later years, that there was anything informal about it, is proven to be imaginary. [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 257.] Halleck's direction, which I have quoted, to "let our troops move immediately," would be absurd as addressed to the commandant of the Army of the Potomac into which the Army of Virginia was consolidated, unless that commandant was to take the field, or a formal order relieved him of command as Pope was relieved. Certainly no other commander was designated, and I saw enough of him in those days to say with confidence that he betrayed no doubt that the order to "move immediately" included himself. McClellan's popularity with the Army of the Potomac had seemed to Mr. Lincoln the only power sufficient to ensure its prompt and earnest action against the Confederate invasion. His leadership of it, to be successful, had to be accompanied with plenary powers, even if the stultification of the government itself were the consequence. When the patriotism of the President yielded to this, the suggestion of McClellan twenty years afterward, that it had all been a pitfall prepared for him, would be revolting if, in view of the records, the absurdity of it did not prove that its origin was in a morbid imagination. It is far more difficult to deal leniently with the exhibition of character in his private letters, which were injudiciously added to his "Own Story" by his literary executor. In them his vanity and his ill-will toward rivals and superiors are shockingly naked; and since no historian can doubt that at every moment from September, 1861, to September, 1862, his army greatly outnumbered his enemy, whilst in equipment and supply there was no comparison, his persistent outcry that he was sacrificed by his government destroys even that character for dignity and that reputation for military intelligence which we fondly attributed to him.

The general arrangement of the campaign seems to have been settled between Halleck and McClellan on the 5th of September. General Sumner with the Second and Twelfth corps moved up the Potomac by way of Tenallytown, Burnside with the First and Ninth corps moved to Leesboro with a view to covering Baltimore, the front was explored by the cavalry under Pleasonton, and the Sixth Corps, under Franklin, constituted a reserve. [Footnote: Confusion in the numbers of the First and Twelfth corps is found in the records and dispatches, owing to the fact that in the Army of Virginia the corps numbers were not those given them by the War Department. Sigel's, properly the Eleventh Corps, had been called First of that army. Banks's, properly Twelfth, had been called Second, and McDowell's, properly First, had been called Third. In the Maryland campaign Hooker was assigned to McDowell's, and it sometimes figures as First, sometimes as Third; Mansfield was assigned to Banks's. The proper designations after the consolidation were First and Twelfth. Reno had been assigned to the First, but McClellan got authority to change it, and gave it to Hooker, sending Reno back to the Ninth. Official Records, vol. xix. pt. ii. pp. 197, 198, 279, 349.] The preliminary movements occupied the 5th and 6th, but on the 7th the positions were as I have stated them. The principal bodies were designated, respectively, as right and left wings instead of armies. The two corps from the Army of Virginia were separated, one being assigned to the right wing under Burnside, and the other to the left under Sumner.



site stats


Site Copyright 2003-2014 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,


privacy policy

Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.