It will be seen, therefore, that our approaches were swept by the fire of at least forty-nine guns, nearly all of which were heavy, and many of them the most formidable guns known. Besides that, two-thirds of the guns of the water-batteries, and all the guns of Gloucester, bore on our right batteries, though under disadvantageous circumstances.It is true that General Barnard has since changed his mind, and given it as his opinion that the lines of Yorktown should have been assaulted; but it is clear that General McClellan had an opposite judgment given at the time and on the spot and under the gravest official responsibility.1
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1 This second, or retrospective, Report of General Barnard was made in January, 1863, at a time when General McClellan was living in retirement and out of favor with the Administration. The Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War copy several of its paragraphs into their Report on the Army of the Potomac; and the whole of it may be found at page 394 of their Proceedings, Part First, appended to General Barnard's testimony. The Report of the Committee has been translated into French, and published, with notes, by Colonel Lecomte, an accomplished Swiss officer who served on General McClellan's staff during the Peninsular campaign. One of General Barnard's paragraphs which the Committee copy is as follows:--“However I may be committed to any expression of professional opinion to the contrary (I certainly did suggest it), my opinion now is that the lines of Yorktown should have been assaulted. There is reason to believe that they were not held in strong force when our army appeared before them; and we know that they were far from complete. The prestige of power, the morale, were on our side. It was due to ourselves to confirm and sustain it. We should probably have succeeded. But, if we had failed, it may be well doubted whether the shock of an unsuccessful assault would be more demoralizing than the labors of a siege.”Upon the above, Colonel Lecomte remarks, “We are the more astonished at this retrospective confidence of General Barnard, because, on the spot, the engineer officers who were associated with him, and he himself, we believe, repeatedly expressed very different opinions.” General Barnard further says, “The siege having been determined upon, we should have opened our batteries upon the place as fast as they were completed. The effect on our troops would have been inspiring. It would have lightened the siege and shortened our labors; and, besides, we should have had the credit of driving the enemy from Yorktown by force of arms,--whereas, as it was, we only induced him to evacuate for prudential reasons.” Upon which Colonel Lecomte remarks, “This is not certain. On the contrary, nothing discourages an army and inspirits the enemy more than a fire of artillery that begins feebly, without taking into account that in this way the calibre of the pieces is revealed. And as to the ‘credit’ of taking Yorktown by force of arms, this slight advantage might also have been doubtful; because, unless we ,had inflicted heavy loss upon the enemy and taken many prisoners at the very moment of evacuation (which was hardly to be expected), they might have pretended that they repulsed us, and only evacuated the place, later, for prudential reasons.”
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