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[113] command of all military departments but that of the Potomac; extending Gen. Halleck's department in the West so as to include all the Mississippi Valley northward of the Gulf States and west of a north and south line drawn through Knoxville, Tenn.; and creating a new “ Mountain Department,” consisting of the country between McClellan's and Halleck's, to be commanded by Gen. Fremont.

Undoubtedly, this order indicated a diminution, if not absolute failure, of the President's confidence in his senior General; and, while it is very obvious that the commander of a great army operating from the Peninsula against Richmond could not properly and safely direct the movements of other armies, scattered all over the country, and with which his telegraphic communications would probably be often interrupted, it is certain that all our movements should have been directed by a common head, responsible for the proper distribution and concentration of our forces. A Secretary of War, however able and fit, is perplexed by duties and anxieties too multifarious and distracting to permit of his serving to advantage as Generalissimo.

Two days later, at a council of corps commanders at Fairfax Court House, it was decided — for reasons not given and not apparent — to debark our army at Old Point Comfort, between the York and James rivers, instead of Urbana or Mob Jack Bay — a most unfortunate decision, though materially qualified by the following provisos:

1st. That the enemy's vessel Merrimae can be neutralized.

2d. That the means of transportation, sufficient for an immediate transfer of the force to its new base, can be ready at Washington and Alexandria to move down the Potomac; and

3d. That a naval auxiliary force can be had to silence, or aid in silencing, the enemy's batteries on York river.

4th. That the forces to be left to cover Washington shall be such as to give an entire feeling of security for its safety from menace. (Unanimous.)

If the foregoing can not be, the army should then be moved against the enemy, behind the Rappahannock, at the earliest possible moment; and the means for reconstructing bridges, repairing railroads and stocking them with material sufficient for supplying the army, should at once be collected for both the Orange and Alexandria and Acqnia and Richmond( Railroads. (Unanimous.)

N. B. That with the forts on the right bank of the Potomac fully garrisoned, and those on the left bank occupied, a covering force in front of the Virginia line of 25,000 men would suffice. (Keyes, Heintzelman and McDowell.) A total of 40,000 men for the defense of the city would suffice. (Sumner.)

This decision, being communicated to the War Department, was promptly responded to as follows:

War Department, March 13, 1862.
To Maj.-Gen. Geo. B. Mcclellan :
The President, having considered the plan of operations agreed upon by yourself and the commanders of army corps, makes no objection to the same, but gives the following directions as to its execution:

1st. Leave such force at Manassas Junction as shall make it entirely certain that the enemy shall not repossess himself of that position and line of communication.

2d. Leave Washington entirely secure.

3d. Move the remainder of the force down the Potomac, choosing a now base at Fortress Monroe, or anywhere between here and there; or, at all events, move such remainder of the army at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

Gen. McClellan hereupon ordered Gen. Banks, with his corps, to move both his divisions down from the Shenandoah Valley to Manassas; there to intrench and rebuild the railroads and bridges, “occupy by grand guards Warrenton Junction, or Warrenton itself, and also some little ”

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George B. McClellan (3)
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