Going at once to the War Department I found General McDowell
and General Wadsworth
informed me that the Secretary of War
had told him about an hour before that General McClellan
intended to work by strategy and not by fighting, and that he should not have another man from his department; that all of the enemies of the administration centred around him, and the Secretary
accused him of having political aspirations.
Also, that he had not left the number of troops to defend Washington
that the President
required — in other words, that he had disobeyed the President
remonstrated against the step which was about to be taken, arguing that if General McClellan
had political aspirations they would be forwarded by the very course which the administration was taking in this case.
He used all of the arguments which he could bring to bear, to convince the Secretary
that he was making a mistake in ordering the detachment of his corps.
The result was, General McDowell
's corps was detached from the Army of the Potomac, and was marched to Catlett's Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, where it could do no possible good.
's plan of turning Yorktown
, by the movement of McDowell
's corps on the north bank of the York river
, was utterly destroyed.
The Army of the Potomac was forced to stay a whole month on the Peninsula
uselessly, to make the expensive and abortive siege of Yorktown
, to fight the bloody battle of Williamsburg
; and the capture of Richmond
, which in all human probability would have been made in the month of May, had General McClellan
's plan been carried out, was deferred for three years.
Thus was consummated the first great crime of the war. An army of nearly one hundred thousand men which had been in preparation for more than six months, was despatched to deal the enemy a deadly blow, under the general who had organized it, and was beloved by it, and who was unanimously recognized by soldiers and civilians as its proper commander.
Before he had been absent forty-eight hours, his largest corps, commanded by his second in command, containing more than one-fourth of his army, assigned to a service which was vital to the success of his campaign, was detached from his command, without consultation with him and without his knowledge, I do not know whether the perpetrators of this crime were punished for it in this life; but the ghastly account of bloodshed in Virginia
for the next three years shows that the innocent country was punished, in a way that will be remembered by widows and orphans for a generation.