From the Peninsula to Antietam.1
It is not proposed to give in this article a detailed account of the battles of South Mountain
, but simply a sketch of the general operations of the Maryland campaign
of 1862 intended for general readers, especially for those whose memory does not extend back to those exciting days, and whose knowledge is derived from the meager accounts in so-called histories, too often intended to mislead and pander to party prejudices rather than to seek and record the truth.
The National Cemetery at Sharpsburg — overlooking the Valley of the Antietam.|
A great battle can never be regarded as “a solitaire,” a jewel to be admired or condemned for itself alone, and without reference to surrounding objects and circumstances A battle is always one link in a long chain of events; the culmination of one series of manoeuvres, and the starting-point of another series — therefore it can never be fully understood without reference to preceding and subsequent events.
Restricted as this narrative is intended to be, it is nevertheless necessary to preface it by a brief story of the antecedent circumstances.
In an article already published in “The century” [May, 1885], I have narrated the events of the Peninsular campaign
up to the time when, at the
close of the Seven Days battles, the Army of the Potomac was firmly established on its proper line of operations, the James River
So long as life lasts the survivors of those glorious days will remember with quickened pulse the attitude of that army when it reached the goal for which it had striven with such transcendent heroism.
Exhausted, depleted in numbers, bleeding at every pore, but still proud and defiant, and strong in the consciousness of a great feat of arms heroically accomplished, it stood ready to renew the struggle with undiminished ardor whenever its commander should give the word.
It was one of those magnificent episodes which dignify a nation's history, and are fit subjects for the grandest efforts of the poet and the painter.
[Many years ago it was my good fortune, when in. Europe
, to make the acquaintance of a charming old Westphalian baron who was aide-de-camp to King Jerome in the days of his prosperity.
In 1813 my friend was sent by his king with important dispatches to the Emperor
, and, as it happened, arrived while the battle of Lutzen
was in progress.
He approached from the rear and for miles passed through crowds of stragglers, feeling no doubt that the battle was lost, and that he was about to witness the crushing defeat of the French
Still keeping on and on, he at last found the Emperor
at the front, and to his great surprise discovered that the battle was won. Thus it very often happens in war that there are on each side two armies in the field, one of the fighting men with the colors, the other of stragglers and marauders in the rear; the relative strength of these two armies depends upon the state of discipline and the peculiar circumstances of the time.]2
At the close of such a series of battles and marches the returns of the killed, wounded, and missing by no means fully measure the temporary decrease of strength; there were also many thousands unfitted for duty for some days by illness, demoralization, and fatigue.
The first thing to be done was to issue supplies from the vessels already sent to the James
, and to allow the men some little time to rest and recover their strength after the great fatigue and nervous tension they had undergone.
In order to permit a small number to watch over the safety of the whole army, and at the same time to prepare the way for ulterior operations, so that when the army advanced again upon Richmond
by either bank of the James
its base of supplies might be secure with a small guard, the position was rapidly intrenched, the work being completed about the 10th of July.
Prior to the 10th of July two brigades of Shields
's division, numbering about 5300 men, had joined the army, bringing its numbers for duty up to 89,549, officers and men, about the same strength as that with which it entered upon the siege of Yorktown
, the reenforcements received in the shape of the divisions of Franklin
, the brigades of Shields
, and a few regiments from Fort Monroe
having slightly more than made good the losses
Fac-Simile of a part of General McClellan's last manuscript.
[see P. 546 and foot-note, P. 545.]|
in battle and by disease.
But among these 89,000 for duty.3
on the 10th of July were included all the extra duty men employed as teamsters, and in the various administrative services, and, with the further deductions necessary for camp guards, guards of communications, depots and trains, flank detachments, etc., reduced the numbers actually available for offensive battle to not more than [ 60,000? ]
A few days sufficed to give the men the necessary rest, and to renew the supplies exhausted on the march across the
Peninsula; the army was once more in condition to undertake any operation justified by its numbers, and was in an excellent position to advance by either bank of the James
[End of finished draft.]
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It was at last upon its true line of operations, which I had been unable to adopt at an earlier day in consequence of the Secretary of War
's peremptory order of the 18th of May requiring the right wing to be extended to the north of Richmond
in order to establish communication with General McDowell
, General McDowell
was then under orders to advance from Fredericksburg
, but never came, because, in spite of his earnest protest, these orders were countermanded from Washington
, and he was sent upon a fruit-less expedition toward the Shenandoah
instead of being permitted to join me, as he could have done, at the time of the affair of Hanover Court House.
I urged in vain that the Army of the Potomac should remain on the line of the James
, and that it should resume the offensive as soon as reenforced to the full extent of the means in possession of the Government
Had the Army of the Potomac been permitted to remain on the line of the James
, I would have crossed to the south bank of that river, and while engaging Lee
's attention in front of Malvern
, would have made a rapid movement in force on Petersburg
, having gained which, I would have operated against Richmond
and its communications from the west, having already gained those from the south.
Subsequent events proved that Lee
did not move northward from Richmond
with his army until assured that the Army of the Potomac was actually on its way to Fort Monroe
; and they also proved that so long as the Army of the Potomac was on the James
would have been entirely safe under the protection of the fortifications and a comparatively small part of the troops then in that vicinity; so that Burnside
's troops and a large part of the Union
Army of Virginia might, with entire propriety, have been sent by water to join the army under my command, which — with detachments from the West
--could easily have been brought up to more than 100,000 men disposable on the actual field of battle.
In spite of my most pressing and oft-repeated entreaties, the order was insisted upon for the abandonment of the Peninsula
line and the return of the Army of the Potomac to Washington
in order to support General Pope
, who was in no danger so long as the Army of the Potomac remained on the James
With a heavy heart I relinquished the position gained at the cost of so much time and blood.
As an evidence of my good faith in opposing this movement it should be mentioned that General Halleck
had assured me, verbally and in writing, that I was to command all the troops in front of Washington
, including those of Generals Burnside
— a promise that was not carried into effect.
As the different divisions of the Army of the Potomac reached Aquia Creek
and the vicinity of Washington
they were removed from my command, even to my personal escort and camp guard, so that on the 30th of August, in reply to a telegram from him, I telegraphed General Halleck
, “I have no sharp-shooters except the guard around my camp.
sent off every man but those, and will now send them with the train as you direct.
I will also send my only remaining squadron of cavalry with General Sumner
I can do no more.
You now have every man of the Army of the Potomac who is within my reach.”
I had already sent off even my headquarters wagons — so far as landed — with ammunition to the front.
On the same day I telegraphed to General Halleck
, “I cannot express to you, etc.”
[The dispatch which General McClellan
here indicates, as intending to insert when revising the manuscript, proceeds as follows:
The dispatch was dated “Camp near Alexandria
, Aug. 30th, 1862, 10:30 P. M.” On the following day he received this answer:
On the 1st of September I met General Halleck
at his office in Washington
, who by verbal order directed me to take charge of Washington
and its defenses, but expressly prohibited me from exercising any control over the active troops under General Pope
At this interview I informed General Halleck
that from information received through one of my aides I was satisfied that affairs were not progressing favorably at the front, and urged him to go out in person to ascertain the exact state of the case.
He declined doing this, but finally sent Colonel Kelton
, his adjutant-general.
Next morning while at breakfast at an early hour I received a call from the President
, accompanied by General Halleck
The President informed me that Colonel Kelton
had returned and represented the condition of affairs as much worse than I had stated to Halleck
on the previous day; that there were thirty thousand stragglers on the roads; that the army was entirely defeated and falling back to Washington
He then said that he regarded Washington
as lost, and asked me if I would, under the circumstances, consent to accept command of all the forces.
Without one moment's hesitation and without making any conditions whatever, I at once said that I would accept the command and would stake my life that I would save the city.
Both the President
again asserted that it
was impossible to save the city, and I repeated my firm conviction that I could and would save it. They then left, the President
verbally placing me in entire command of the city and of the troops falling back upon it from the front.
I at once sent for my staff-officers and dispatched them on various duties; some to the front with orders for the disposition of such corps as they met, others to see to the prompt forwarding of ammunition and supplies to meet the retreating troops.
In a very short time I had made all the requisite preparations and was about to start to the front in person to assume command as far out as possible, when a message came to me from General Halleck
informing me that it was the President
's order that I should not assume command until the troops had reached the immediate vicinity of the fortifications.
I therefore waited until the afternoon, when I rode out to Upton's Hill
, the most advanced of the detached works covering the capital.
Soon after arriving there the head of Hatch
's command of infantry arrived, immediately followed by Generals Pope
escorted by a regiment, or part of a regiment, of cavalry.
I obtained what information I could from General Pope
and dispatched the few remaining aides with me to meet the troops on the roads leading in on the left, with final orders to them, when quite a heavy distant artillery firing broke out in the direction of the Chantilly
Asking General Pope
what that was, he replied it was probably an attack on Sumner
, who commanded the rear-guard in that direction; in reply to another question he said that he thought it probably a serious affair.
He and McDowell
then asked if I had any objection to their proceeding to Washington
I said that they might do so, but that I was going to the firing.
They then proceeded on with their escort while, with a single aide (Colonel Colburn
) and three orderlies, I struck across country to intercept the column on our right by the shortest line.
It was a little after dark when I reached the column.
I leave to others who were present the description of what then occurred: the frantic cheers of welcome that extended for miles along the column; the breaking of ranks and the wild appeals of the men that I should then and there take them back on the line of retreat and let them snatch victory out of defeat.4
Let it suffice to say that before the day broke the troops were all in position to repulse attack, and that Washington
On the 3d it was clear that the enemy intended an invasion of Maryland
by crossing the Upper Potomac
; I therefore moved the Second, Ninth, and Twelfth Corps to the Maryland
side of the Potomac
in position to meet any attack upon the city on that side.
As soon as this was done I reported the fact to General Halleck
, who asked what general ][ had placed in command of those three corps; I replied that I had made no such detail, as I should take command in person if the enemy appeared in that direction.
He then said that my command included only the defenses of Washington and did not extend to any active column that might be moved out beyond the line of works; that no decision had yet been made as to the commander of the active army.
He repeated the same thing on more than one occasion before the final advance to South Mountain
I should here state that the only published order ever issued in regard to the extent of my command after my interview with the President
on the morning of the 2d5
was the following:
A few days after this and before I went to the front, Secretary Seward
came to my quarters one evening and asked my opinion of the condition of affairs at Harper's Ferry
, remarking that he was not at ease on the subject.
was not at that time in any sense under my control, but I told Mr. Seward
that I regarded the arrangements there as exceedingly dangerous; that in my opinion the proper course was to abandon the position and unite the garrison (about ten thousand men) to the main army of operations,
for the reason that its presence at Harper's Ferry
would not hinder the enemy from crossing the Potomac
; that if we were unsuccessful in the approaching battle, Harper's Ferry
would be of no use to us and its garrison necessarily would be lost; that if we were successful we would immediately recover the post without any difficulty, while the addition of ten thousand men to the active army would be an important factor in securing success.
I added that if it were determined to hold the position the existing arrangements were all wrong, as it would be easy for the enemy to surround and capture the garrison, and that the garrison ought, at least, to be withdrawn to the Maryland Heights
, where they could resist attack until relieved.
was much impressed by what I said, and asked me to accompany him to General Halleck
and repeat my statement to him. I acquiesced, and we went together to General Halleck
's quarters, where we found that he had retired for the night.
But he received us in his bedroom, when, after a preliminary explanation by the Secretary
as to the interview being at his request, I said to Halleck
precisely what I had stated to Mr. Seward
received my statement with ill-concealed contempt — said that everything was all right as it was; that my views were entirely erroneous, etc., and soon bowed us out, leaving matters at Harper's Ferry
precisely as they were.
On the 7th of September, in addition to the three corps already mentioned (the Second, Ninth, and Twelfth), the First and Sixth Corps, Sykes
's division of the Fifth Corps, and Couch
's division of the Fourth Corps, were also on the Maryland
side of the river; the First and Ninth Corps at Leesboro; the Second and Twelfth in front of Rockville
; the Sixth Corps at Rockville
's division at Offutt's Cross Roads; Sykes
's division at Tenallytown
As the time had now arrived for the army to advance, and I had received no orders to take command of it, but had been expressly told that the assignment of a commander had not been decided, I determined to solve the question for myself, and when I moved out from Washington
with my staff and personal escort I left my card with P. P. C.
written upon it, at the White House
, War Office, and Secretary Seward
's house, and went on my way.7
I was afterward accused of assuming command without authority, for nefarious purposes, and in fact I fought the battles of South Mountain
with a halter around my neck, for if the Army of the Potomac had been defeated and I had survived I would, no doubt, have been tried for assuming authority without orders, and, in the state of feeling which so unjustly condemned the innocent and most meritorious General F. J. Porter
, I would probably have been condemned to death.
I was fully aware of the risk I ran, but the path of duty was clear and I tried to follow it. It was absolutely necessary that Lee
's army should be met, and in the state of affairs I have briefly described there could be no hesitation on my part as to doing it promptly.
Very few in the Army of the Potomac doubted the favorable
Map of the Maryland campaign.|
result of the next collision with the Confederate army, but in other quarters not a little doubt prevailed, and the desire for very rapid movements, so loudly expressed after the result was gained, did not make itself heard during the movements preceding the battles; quite the contrary was the case, as I was more than once cautioned that I was moving too rashly and exposing the capital to an attack from the Virginia
As is well known, the result of General Pope
's operations had not been favorable, and when I finally resumed command of the troops in and around Washington
they were weary, disheartened, their organization impaired, their clothing, ammunition, and supplies in a pitiable condition.
The Army of the Potomac was thoroughly exhausted and depleted by its
desperate fighting and severe marches in the unhealthy regions of the Chickahominy
and afterward, during the second Bull Run
campaign; its trains, administration services and supplies were disorganized or lacking in consequence of the rapidity and manner of its removal from the Peninsula
as well as from the nature of its operations during the second Bull Run
In the departure from the Peninsula
, trains, supplies, cavalry, and artillery in many instances had necessarily been left at Fort Monroe
for lack of vessels, as the important point was to remove the infantry divisions rapidly to the support of General Pope
The divisions of the Army of Virginia were also exhausted and weakened, and their trains were disorganized and their supplies deficient by reason of the movements in which they had been engaged.
Had General Lee
remained in front of Washington
it would have been the part of wisdom to hold our own army quiet until its pressing wants were fully supplied, its organization was restored, and its ranks were filled with recruits — in brief, until it was prepared for a campaign.
But as the enemy maintained the offensive and crossed the Upper Potomac
to threaten or invade Pennsylvania
, it became necessary to meet him at any cost notwithstanding the condition of the troops, to put a stop to the invasion, save Baltimore
, and throw him back across the Potomac
Nothing but sheer necessity justified the advance of the Army of the Potomac to South Mountain
in its then condition, and it is to the eternal honor of the brave men who composed it that under such adverse circumstances they gained those victories.
The work of supply and reorganization was continued as best we might while on the march, and even after the close of the battles [September 14th-17th] so much remained to be done to place the army in condition for a campaign, that the delay which ensued was absolutely unavoidable, and the army could not have entered upon a new campaign one day earlier than it did. It must then be borne constantly in mind that the purpose of advancing from Washington
was simply to meet the necessities of the moment by frustrating Lee
's invasion of the Northern States
,. and, when that was accomplished, to push with the utmost rapidity the work of reorganization and supply so that a new campaign might be promptly inaugurated with the army in condition to prosecute it to a successful termination without intermission.
The advance from Washington
was covered by the cavalry, under General Pleasonton
, which was pushed as far to the front as possible, and was soon in constant contact with the enemy's cavalry, with whom several well-conducted and successful affairs occurred.
Partly in order to move men freely and rapidly, partly in consequence of the lack of accurate information as to the exact position and intention of Lee
's army, the troops advanced by three main roads: that part near the Potomac
by Offutt's Cross Roads and the mouth of the Seneca
; that by Rockville
, and that by Brookville
to New Market
We were then in condition to act according to the development of the enemy's plans and to concentrate rapidly in any position.
threatened our left flank by moving
down the river road, or by crossing the Potomac
at any of the fords from Coon's Ferry upward, there were enough troops on the river road to hold him in check until the rest of the army could move over to support them; if Lee
took up a position behind the Seneca
the whole army could be rapidly concentrated in that direction to attack him in force; if he moved upon Baltimore
the entire army could rapidly be thrown in his rear and his retreat would be cut off; if he moved by Gettysburg
we were equally in position to throw ourselves in his rear.
The first requisite was to gain accurate information as to Lee
's movements, and the second, to push the work of supply and reorganization as rapidly as possible.
and I knew each other well.
In the days before the war we served together in Mexico
, and we had commanded against each other in the Peninsula
I had the highest respect for his ability as a commander, and knew that he was a general not to be trifled with or carelessly afforded an opportunity of striking a fatal blow.
Each of us naturally regarded his own army as the better, but each entertained the highest respect for the endurance, courage, and fighting qualities of the opposing army; and this feeling extended to the officers and men. It was perfectly natural under these circumstances that both of us should exercise a certain amount of caution,--I in my endeavors to ascertain Lee
's strength, position, and intentions before I struck the fatal blow; he to abstain from any extended movements of invasion, and to hold his army well in hand until he could be satisfied as to the condition of the Army of the Potomac after its second Bull Run
campaign, and as to the intentions of its commander.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Rostrum in the National Cemetery at Sharpsburg.
From a recent photograph.
On Memorial day, 1885, General McClellan addressed from this Rostrum a large assembly of members of the “grand Army of the Republic.”--Editors. |