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[218] his co-operation being simply suspended, not revoked, General McClellan was not at liberty to abandon the northern approach.

On the 25th of May he received a telegraphic despatch from the President, at considerable length, detailing the enemy's movements as far as they were known up to its date, stating that twenty thousand of McDowell's forces were moving back to Front Royal, that one more of his brigades was ordered to Harper's Ferry through Washington, and that the rest of his forces were to remain for the present at Fredericksburg, adding that if McDowell's force was beyond their reach they (in Washington) should be entirely helpless. At a later hour on the same day, the President sent him another despatch, indicating apprehensions for the safety of Washington, saying, “I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defence of Washington.” 1

1 Upon the President's first despatch of May 25, in which he says that apprehensions for the safety of Washington, and nothing else, prevented McDowell's being sent to the Peninsula, Colonel Lecomte remarks, “We have full faith in the sincerity of the frank and honest language of the President; but the Report” (that of the Congressional Committee, which quotes a part of the President's despatch)

perverts entirely the facts relative to Jackson's campaign, and the insane terror it inspired in Washington, which was the true cause of the failure on the Peninsula. On quitting Washington, before having been deprived of a part of his command, General McClellan had given the most exact and judicious instructions for the defence of the capital. He had pointed out Manassas and Front Royal as points forming a good advanced line, and had ordered Banks to intrench himself there. He had distinctly forbidden him to advance farther into Virginia. But as soon as General McClellan's back was turned, they wished to make Banks a rival of him, and, supposing that the Army of the Potomac would attract all the force of the enemy, it was thought that Banks might gather some cheap laurels if he were sent into the upper Valley of the Shenandoah. The Aulic Council at Washington thought they might in this way strike a master-stroke, and cause Richmond to fall before McClellan had time to appear before it. If the Confederates had not been in so much hurry, if they had let Banks advance farther, this brave general would have run great risk of being captured with all his force. Banks having miraculously escaped, it was enough to hold Harper's Ferry strongly on one side, and Centreville on the other, to cover Washington. Jackson might have moved between Warrenton Junction and Winchester; he might have pushed cavalry detachments into Western Maryland; but he could have attempted no serious enterprise.

Instead of this, it was thought that a good trick might be played upon Jackson, and that he might be “bagged,” to use an American expression. To form a notion of this plan of the campaign, manufactured at Washington, and the confusion which attended its execution, one should read the series of telegrams by which the President informs General McClellan of the progress of this wise manoeuvre. Generals McDowell, Banks, Sigel, and Fremont, each coming from his own position, and all preserving their independent commands, arrived one after another, to be beaten in detail, or to let Jackson escape before their eyes without a fight. But the most unfortunate result was that the corps of McDowell, divided, weakened by forced marches, and transported to another theatre of war, could not take the part which had been assigned to it. For the second time, and definitively, it was detained far from the army of General McClellan, to which for the second time it thus caused great mischief, as a few brief explanations will show.

After the destruction of the Merrimac, and the taking of Norfolk by the Federals, which opened the James River, Commodore Goldsborough had proposed to General McClellan to take the James River as a base of operations and have it flank his left wing. This change of base, had it then been carried out, would have made the attack upon Richmond easier, through the aid of the gunboats. General McClellan abandoned this obvious advantage, because he had been ordered to extend his right wing towards McDowell, who was coming from Fredericksburg to reinforce the army of the Peninsula as soon as it had reached Richmond. General McClellan expected General McDowell by the railroad from Fredericksburg to Richmond, and had already sent troops in that direction to effect a junction,--when, instead of this reinforcement, he received a telegraphic order to burn the railroad-bridges over the branches of the Pamunkey, and thus to render all communication with McDowell impossible, the latter's outposts having been at that time but twenty-one miles distant from those of McClellan. But this was the period of Banks's defeat; and such was the terror at Washington that they thought the whole Confederate army was marching to the North and that the capital was to be saved by destroying the bridges. The alarm was so great that it was even proposed to General McClellan to re-embark his army and bring it within the lines of Alexandria.

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George Brinton McClellan (11)
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