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 certainly projected some bold movement upon McClellan's rear, similar to that which had proved so successful against Pope two months and a half before, but they were playing a very dangerous game, for never had the army of the Potomac manoeuvred better, nor been better prepared for a great struggle, and never had the mutual confidence between general and soldiers been greater than at that moment. It is useless to inquire whether victory would have been the reward of Jackson's audacity, or the result of McClellan's combinations; a political intrigue concocted at Washington suddenly interrupted the campaign, and delivered the Confederates from an adversary whom they had learned to respect. On the evening of November 7th, during a snow-storm somewhat early in the year for that climate, McClellan was in his tent with General Burnside, when the bearer of a despatch from the President was announced. This was General Buckingham, an officer unknown to the army of the Potomac, who brought him an order contained in three lines, and signed by Halleck. This order relieved him from the command of the army and appointed Burnside as his successor. News so utterly unexpected fell like a thunderbolt upon these two officers, who had long been on terms of strictest friendship; but the only one who exhibited any emotion was the one upon whom fell the weight of a responsibility to which he had never aspired. After reading the despatch, without betraying any feeling McClellan handed it to him, simply remarking, ‘You command the army.’1 Burnside declined to
1 This account of the relief of McClellan and the appointment of Burnside is not quite correct, but the slight error, which, after all, concerns only a mere incident of the great events, would be of little moment, were it not that it has brought out the true details, which are not without interest. In a letter to the Chicago Tribune of September 4, 1875, General Buckingham takes exception to the author's account, both as to the facts, and as to the statement that he was ‘an officer unknown to the army of the Potomac.’ With regard to the facts, Colonel John P. Nicholson writes to the Philadelphia Times under date of September 18, 1875, showing that the Comte de Paris had taken the details from Hurlbut, Swinton and Lossing, authorities unchallenged on this point for years past. The following is General Buckingham's account:
I was at that time on special duty at the War Department, my office being adjoining the Secretary's private room. On the evening of the 6th of November, about ten o'clock, the Secretary sent for me to come to his office, where I found him with General Halleck. He told me that he wanted me to go and find the headquarters of the army of the Potomac, and spent some time in giving minute directions as to the route I should take. Just before I left he handed me two envelopes, unsealed, telling me to take them to my room, and, having read them, to seal them up. I was thunderstruck to find that one of the envelopes contained two orders for McClellan—one from the President, relieving him from the command of the army, and the other from General Halleck, ordering him to repair to some town in New Jersey and report by letter to the War Department. The other envelope contained two orders for Burnside—one from the President, assigning him to the command of the army, vice McClellan, and the other from General Halleck, directing him to report what were his plans. Before leaving next morning, I saw the Secretary at his house, and he explained to me his reasons for sending an officer of my rank on an errand like that. The first was that he feared Burnside would not accept the command, and my instructions were to use, if necessary, the strongest arguments to induce him not to refuse. The second reason, though a characteristic one, had very little foundation. The Secretary had not only no confidence in McClellan's military skill, but he very much doubted his patriotism, and even loyalty, and he expressed to me some fear that McClellan would not give up the command, and he wished, therefore, that the order should be presented by an officer of high rank, direct from the War Department, so as to carry the full weight of the President's authority. He directed me to see Burnside first and get his decision. If he consented to accept, I was then to see McClellan; but if not, I was to return at once to Washington. I found Burnside about fifteen miles south of Salem, where his division was halted and he alone in a little chamber. Closing the door, I made known my errand. He at once declined the command. Whatever my private opinion may have been, my duty was to follow the directions of the Secretary of War, and, if possible, overcome his objections. It happened, however, knowing, as I did, that the President was resolved at all events to remove McClellan, that I felt fully satisfied that he (Burnside) ought to accept, and urged him to do so. Among other objections, he urged his want of confidence in himself and his particularly friendly relations to McClellan, to whom he felt under the strongest obligations. I met these objections by stating that McClellan's removal was resolved upon at any rate, and that if he (Burnside) did not accept the command, it would be given to Hooker, who became, in fact, Burnside's successor. He at length consented to obey the order, and I requested him to go with me to find McClellan. We returned to Salem, whence I had ridden on horseback through a snow-storm, and I had my locomotive fixed up the same evening, and on it we proceeded about five miles up the railroad to McClellan's camp. About eleven o'clock we found him alone in his tent, examining papers, and as we both entered together he received us in his usual kind and cordial manner. My task was not only a painful one, but particularly distasteful to me in view of my friendly feelings for McClellan. But as the blow had to come, I was glad that it was not to be given through an unkind hand and in a mortifying way. General McClellan has himself borne testimony to the kind manner in which I communicated the order, and I can bear testimony to his prompt and cheerful obedience to it.In a letter to Colonel Nicholson, dated October 26, 1875, the Comte de Paris writes: ‘Allow me only, before concluding, to answer two of the assertions of the latter (General Buckingham). He says that fears were entertained in Washington that General McClellan would not submit to the President's order; such a suspicion is a wanton offence against General McClellan's loyalty, for it means nothing less than that he was suspected of treachery and rebellion against the Constitution which he was fighting to uphold. He objects also to the qualification I give him of being a stranger to the army of the Potomac. He might have been known to some of the high officers in the army; but not having taken any part in its campaigns, he was unknown to the army and a stranger among the troops.’—Ed.
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