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Chapter 22.

  • Jackson's valley campaign
  • -- Lincoln's visit to Scott -- Pope assigned to command -- Lee's attack on McClellan -- retreat to Harrison's Landing -- Seward sent to New York -- Lincoln's letter to Seward -- Lincoln's letter to McClellan-.Lincoln's visit to McClellan -- Halleck made General-in -- chief -- Halleck's visit to Mc -- Clellan -- withdrawal from Harrison's Landing -- Pope assumes command -- second battle of Bull Run -- the cabinet protest -- McClellan ordered to defend Washington-the Maryland campaign -- battle of Antietam -- Lincoln visits Antietam -- Lincoln's letter to Mc -- Clellan -- McClellan removed from command
    During the month of May, while General McClellan was slowly working his way across the Chickahominy by bridge-building and intrenching, there occurred the episode of Stonewall Jackson's valley campaign, in which that eccentric and daring Confederate commander made a rapid and victorious march up the Shenandoah valley nearly to Harper's Ferry. Its principal effect upon the Richmond campaign was to turn back McDowell, who had been started on a land march to unite with the right wing of McClellan's army, under instructions, however, always to be in readiness to interpose his force against any attempt of the enemy to march upon Washington. This campaign of Stonewall Jackson's has been much lauded by military writers; but its temporary success resulted from good luck rather than military ability. [306] Rationally considered, it was an imprudent and even reckless adventure that courted and would have resulted in destruction or capture had the junction of forces under McDowell, Shields, and Fremont, ordered by President Lincoln, not been thwarted by the mistake and delay of Fremont. It was an episode that signally demonstrated the wisdom of the President in having retained McDowell's corps for the protection of the national capital.

    That, however, was not the only precaution to which the President had devoted his serious attention. During the whole of McClellan's Richmond campaign he had continually borne in mind the possibility of his defeat, and the eventualities it might create. Little by little, that general's hesitation, constant complaints, and exaggerated reports of the enemy's strength changed the President's apprehensions from possibility to probability; and he took prompt measures to be prepared as far as possible, should a new disaster arise. On June 24 he made a hurried visit to the veteran General Scott at West Point, for consultation on the existing military conditions, and on his return to Washington called General Pope from the West, and, by an order dated June 26, specially assigned him to the command of the combined forces under Fremont, Banks, and McDowell, to be called the Army of Virginia, whose duty it should be to guard the Shenandoah valley and Washington city, and, as far as might be, render aid to McClellan's campaign against Richmond.

    The very day on which the President made this order proved to be the crisis of McClellan's campaign. That was the day he had fixed upon for a general advance; but so far from realizing this hope, it turned out, also, to be the day on which General Lee began his attack on the Army of the Potomac, which formed the beginning [307] of the seven days battles, and changed Mc-Clellan's intended advance against Richmond to a retreat to the James River. It was after midnight of the next day that McClellan sent Stanton his despairing and insubordinate despatch indicating the possibility of losing his entire army.

    Upon the receipt of this alarming piece of news, President Lincoln instantly took additional measures of safety. He sent a telegram to General Burnside in North Carolina to come with all the reinforcements he could spare to McClellan's help. Through the Secretary of War he instructed General Halleck at Corinth to send twenty-five thousand infantry to McClellan by way of Baltimore and Washington. His most important action was to begin the formation of a new army. On the same day he sent Secretary of State Seward to New York with a letter to be confidentially shown to such of the governors of States as could be hurriedly called together, setting forth his view of the present condition of the war, and his own determination in regard to its prosecution. After outlining the reverse at Richmond and the new problems it created, the letter continued:

    What should be done is to hold what we have in the West, open the Mississippi, and take Chattanooga and East Tennessee without more. A reasonable force should in every event be kept about Washington for its protection. Then let the country give us a hundred thousand new troops in the shortest possible time, which, added to McClellan directly or indirectly, will take Richmond without endangering any other place which we now hold, and will substantially end the war. I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsake me; and I would publicly [308] appeal to the country for this new force were it not that I fear a general panic and stampede would follow, so hard it is to have a thing understood as it really is.

    Meanwhile, by the news of the victory of Malvern Hill and the secure position to which McClellan had retired at Harrison's Landing, the President learned that the condition of the Army of the Potomac was not as desperate as at first had seemed. The result of Seward's visit to New York is shown in the President's letter of July 2, answering McClellan's urgent call for heavy reinforcements:

    The idea of sending you fifty thousand, or any other considerable force, promptly, is simply absurd. If, in your frequent mention of responsibility, you have the impression that I blame you for not doing more than you can, please be relieved of such impression. I only beg that in like manner you will not ask impossibilities of me. If you think you are not strong enough to take Richmond just now, I do not ask you to try just now. Save the army, material and personnel, and I will strengthen it for the offensive again as fast as I can. The governors of eighteen States offer me a new levy of three hundred thousand, which I accept.

    And in another letter, two days later:

    To reinforce you so as to enable you to resume the offensive within a month, or even six weeks, is impossible. . Under these circumstances, the defensive for the present must be your only care. Save the army-first, where you are, if you can; secondly, by removal, if you must.

    To satisfy himself more fully about the actual situation, the President made a visit to Harrison's Landing on July 8 and 9, and held personal interviews with McClellan and his leading generals. While the question [309] of removing the army underwent considerable discussion, the President left it undecided for the present; but on July i , soon after his return to Washington, he issued an order:

    That Major-General Henry W. Halleck be assigned to command the whole land forces of the United States, as general-in-chief, and that he repair to this capital so soon as he can with safety to the positions and operations within the department now under his charge.

    Though General Halleck was loath to leave his command in the West, he made the necessary dispositions there, and in obedience to the President's order reached Washington on July 23, and assumed command of all the armies as general-in-chief. On the day following he proceeded to General McClellan's headquarters at Harrison's Landing, and after two days consultation reached the same conclusion at which the President had already arrived, that the Army of the Potomac must be withdrawn. McClellan strongly objected to this course. He wished to be reinforced so that he might resume his operations against Richmond. To do this he wanted fifty thousand more men, which number it was impossible to give him, as he had already been pointedly informed by the President. On Halleck's return to Washington, it was, on further consultation, resolved to bring the Army of the Potomac back to Acquia Creek and unite it with the army of Pope.

    On July 30, McClellan received a preliminary order to send away his sick, and the withdrawal of his entire force was ordered by telegraph on August 3. With the obstinacy and persistence that characterized his course from first to last, McClellan still protested against the change, and when Halleck in a calm letter answered his objections with both the advantages and the necessity [310] of the order, McClellan's movement of withdrawal was so delayed that fully eleven days of inestimable time were unnecessarily lost, and the army of Pope was thereby put in serious peril.

    Meanwhile, under President Lincoln's order of June 26, General Pope had left the West, and about the first of July reached Washington, where for two weeks, in consultation with the President and the Secretary of War, he studied the military situation, and on July 14 assumed command of the Army of Virginia, consisting of the corps of General Fremont, eleven thousand five hundred strong, and that of General Banks, eight thousand strong, in the Shenandoah valley, and the corps of General McDowell, eighteen thousand five hundred strong, with one division at Manassas and the other at Fredericksburg. It is unnecessary to relate in detail the campaign which followed. Pope intelligently and faithfully performed the task imposed on him to concentrate his forces and hold in check the advance of the enemy, which began as soon as the Confederates learned of the evacuation of Harrison's Landing.

    When the Army of the Potomac was ordered to be withdrawn it was clearly enough seen that the movement might put the Army of Virginia in jeopardy; but it was hoped that if the transfer to Acquia Creek and Alexandria were made as promptly as the order contemplated, the two armies would be united before the enemy could reach them. McClellan, however, continued day after day to protest against the change, and made his preparations and embarkation with such exasperating slowness as showed that he still hoped to induce the government to change its plans.

    Pope, despite the fact that he had managed his retreat with skill and bravery, was attacked by Lee's [311] army, and fought the second battle of Bull Run on August 30, under the disadvantage of having one of McClellan's divisions entirely absent and the other failing to respond to his order to advance to the attack on the first day. McClellan had reached Alexandria on August 24; and notwithstanding telegram after telegram from Halleck, ordering him to push Franklin's division out to Pope's support, excuse and delay seemed to be his only response, ending at last in his direct suggestion that Franklin's division be kept to defend Washington, and Pope be left to “get out of his scrape” as best he might.

    McClellan's conduct and language had awakened the indignation of the whole cabinet, roused Stanton to fury, and greatly outraged the feelings of President Lincoln. But even under such irritation the President was, as ever, the very incarnation of cool, dispassionate judgment, allowing nothing but the daily and hourly logic of facts to influence his suggestions or decision. In these moments of crisis and danger he felt more keenly than ever the awful responsibilities of rulership, and that the fate of the nation hung upon his words and acts from hour to hour.

    His official counselors, equally patriotic and sincere, were not his equals in calmness of temper. On Friday, August 29, Stanton went to Chase, and after an excited conference drew up a memorandum of protest, to be signed by the members of the cabinet, which drew a gloomy picture of present and apprehended dangers, and recommended the immediate removal of Mc-Clellan from command. Chase and Stanton signed the paper, as also did Bates, whom they immediately consulted, and somewhat later Smith added his signature. But when they presented it to Welles, he firmly refused, stating that though he concurred with them [312] in judgment, it would be discourteous and unfriendly to the President to adopt such a course. They did not go to Seward and Blair, apparently believing them to be friendly to McClellan, and therefore probably unwilling to give their assent. The refusal of Mr. Welles to sign had evidently caused a more serious discussion among them about the form and language of the protest; for on Monday, September I, it was entirely rewritten by Bates, cut down to less than half its original length as drafted by Stanton, and once more signed by the same four members of the cabinet.

    Presented for the second time to Mr. Welles, he reiterated his objection, and again refused his signature. Though in the new form it bore the signatures of a majority of the cabinet, the paper was never presented to Mr. Lincoln. The signers may have adopted the feeling of Mr. Welles that it was discourteous; or they may have thought that with only four members of the cabinet for it and three against it, it would be ineffectual; or, more likely than either, the mere progress of events may have brought them to consider it inexpedient.

    The defeat of Pope became final and conclusive on the afternoon of August 30, and his telegram announcing it conveyed an intimation that he had lost control of his army. President Lincoln had, therefore, to confront a most serious crisis and danger. Even without having seen the written and signed protest, he was well aware of the feelings of the cabinet against Mc-Clellan. With what began to look like a serious conspiracy among McClellan's officers against Pope, with Pope's army in a disorganized retreat upon Washington, with the capital in possible danger of capture by Lee, and with a distracted and half-mutinous cabinet, the President had need of all his caution and all his [313] wisdom. Both his patience and his judgment proved equal to the demand.

    On Monday, September I, repressing every feeling of indignation, and solicitous only to make every expedient contribute to the public safety, he called Mc- Clellan from Alexandria to Washington and asked him to use his personal influence with the officers who had been under his command to give a hearty and loyal support to Pope as a personal favor to their former general, and McClellan at once sent a telegram in this spirit.

    That afternoon, also, Mr. Lincoln despatched a member of General Halleck's staff to the Virginia side of the Potomac, who reported the disorganization and discouragement among the retreating troops as even more than had been expected. Worse than all, Halleck, the general-in-chief, who was much worn out by the labors of the past few days, seemed either unable or unwilling to act with prompt direction and command equal to the emergency, though still willing to give his advice and suggestion.

    Under such conditions, Mr. Lincoln saw that it was necessary for him personally to exercise at the moment his military functions and authority as commander-in-chief of the army and navy. On the morning of September 2, therefore, he gave a verbal order, which during the day was issued in regular form as coming from the general-in-chief, that Major-General Mc-Clellan be placed in command of the fortifications around Washington and the troops for the defense of the capital. Mr. Lincoln made no concealment of his belief that McClellan had acted badly toward Pope and really wanted him to fail; “but there is no one in the army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he can,” he [314] said. “We must use the tools we have; if he cannot fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.”

    It turned out that the second battle of Bull Run had by no means so seriously disorganized the Union army as was reported, and that Washington had been exposed to no real danger. The Confederate army hovered on its front for a day or two, but made neither attack nor demonstration. Instead of this, Lee entered upon a campaign into Maryland, hoping that his presence might stimulate a secession revolt in that State, and possibly create the opportunity successfully to attack Baltimore or Philadelphia.

    Pope having been relieved and sent to another department, McClellan soon restored order among the troops, and displayed unwonted energy and vigilance in watching the movements of the enemy, as Lee gradually moved his forces northwestward toward Leesburg, thirty miles from Washington, where he crossed the Potomac and took position at Frederick, ten miles farther away. McClellan gradually followed the movement of the enemy, keeping the Army of the Potomac constantly in a position to protect both Washington and Baltimore against an attack. In this way it happened that without any order or express intention on the part of either the general or the President, McClellan's duty became imperceptibly changed from that of merely defending Washington city to that of an active campaign into Maryland to follow the Confederate army.

    This movement into Maryland was begun by both armies about September 4. On the thirteenth of that month McClellan had reached Frederick, while Lee was by that time across the Catoctin range at Boonsboroa, but his army was divided. He had sent a large [315] part of it back across the Potomac to capture Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg. On that day there fell into McClellan's hands the copy of an order issued by General Lee three days before, which, as McClellan himself states in his report, fully disclosed Lee's plans. The situation was therefore, as follows: It was splendid September weather, with the roads in fine condition. McClellan commanded a total moving force of more than eighty thousand; Lee, a total moving force of forty thousand. The Confederate army was divided. Each of the separate portions was within twenty miles of the Union columns; and before half-past 6 on the evening of September 13, McClellan had full knowledge of the enemy's plans.

    General Palfrey, an intelligent critic friendly to McClellan, distinctly admits that the Union army, properly commanded, could have absolutely annihilated the Confederate forces. But the result proved quite different. Even such advantages in McClellan's hands failed to rouse him to vigorous and decisive action. As usual, hesitation and tardiness characterized the orders and movements of the Union forces, and during the four days succeeding, Lee had captured Harper's Ferry with eleven thousand prisoners and seventy-three pieces of artillery, reunited his army, and fought the defensive battle of Antietam on September 17, with almost every Confederate soldier engaged, while one third of McClellan's army was not engaged at all and the remainder went into action piecemeal and successively, under such orders that coperative movement and mutual support were practically impossible. Substantially, it was a drawn battle, with appalling slaughter on both sides.

    Even after such a loss of opportunity, there still remained a precious balance of advantage in McClellan's [316] hands. Because of its smaller total numbers, the Confederate army was disproportionately weakened by the losses in battle. The Potomac River was almost immediately behind it, and had McClellan renewed his attack on the morning of the eighteenth, as several of his best officers advised, a decisive victory was yet within his grasp. But with his usual hesitation, notwithstanding the arrival of two divisions of reinforcements, he waited all day to make up his mind. He indeed gave orders to renew, the attack at daylight on the nineteenth, but before that time the enemy had retreated across the Potomac, and McClellan telegraphed, apparently with great satisfaction, that Maryland was free and Pennsylvania safe.

    The President watched the progress of this campaign with an eagerness born of the lively hope that it might end the war. lie sent several telegrams to the startled Pennsylvania authorities to assure them that Philadelphia and Harrisburg were in no danger. He ordered a reinforcement of twenty-one thousand to join McClellan. H-e sent a prompting telegram to that general: “Please do not let him [the enemy] get off without being hurt.” He recognized the battle of Antietam as a substantial, if not a complete victory, and seized the opportunity it afforded him to issue his preliminary proclamation of emancipation on September 22.

    For two weeks after the battle of Antietam, General McClellan kept his army camped on various parts of the field, and so far from exhibiting any disposition of advancing against the enemy in the Shenandoah valley, showed constant apprehension lest the enemy might come and attack him. On October I, the President and several friends made a visit to Antietam, and during the three succeeding days reviewed the troops [317] and went over the various battle-grounds in company with the general. The better insight which the President thus received of the nature and results of the late battle served only to deepen in his mind the conviction he had long entertained-how greatly McClellan's defects overbalanced his merits as a military leader; and his impatience found vent in a phrase of biting irony. In a morning walk with a friend, waving his arm toward the white tents of the great army, he asked: “Do you know what that is?” The friend, not catching the drift of his thought, said, “It is the army of the Potomac, I suppose.” “So it is called,” responded the President, in a tone of suppressed indignation, “But that is a mistake. It is only McClellan's body-guard.”

    At that time General McClellan commanded a total force of one hundred thousand men present for duty under his immediate eye, and seventy-three thousand present for duty under General Banks about Washington. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that on October 6, the second day after Mr. Lincoln's return to Washington, the following telegram went to the general from Halleck:

    I am instructed to telegraph you as follows: The President directs that you cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy, or drive him south. Your army must move now while the roads are good. If you cross the river between the enemy and Washington, and cover the latter by your operation, you can be reinforced with thirty thousand men. If you move up the valley of the Shenandoah, not more than twelve thousand or fifteen thousand can be sent to you. The President advises the interior line, between Washington and the enemy, but does not order it. He is very desirous that your army move as soon as possible. You will immediately report what line you [318] adopt, and when you intend to cross the river; also to what point the reinforcements are to be sent. It is necessary that the plan of your operations be positively determined on before orders are given for building bridges and repairing railroads. I am directed to add that the Secretary of War and the general-in-chief fully concur with the President in these instructions.

    This express order was reinforced by a long letter from the President, dated October 13, specifically pointing out the decided advantages McClellan possessed over the enemy, and suggesting a plan of campaign even to details, the importance and value of which was self-evident.

    “You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim? . . . Change positions with the enemy, and think, you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twenty-four hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania, but if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow and ruin him. If he does so with less than full force, fall upon and beat what is left behind all the easier. Exclusive of the water-line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is by the route that you can and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march? His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his. You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was that this would at once [319] menace the enemy's communications, which I would seize, if he would permit. If he should move northward I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications and move toward Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him, if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say ‘try’ ; if we never try we shall never succeed. If he makes a stand at Winchester, moving neither north nor south, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we cannot beat him when he bears the wastage of coming to us, we never can when we bear the wastage of going to him.”

    But advice, expostulation, argument, orders, were all wasted, now as before, on the unwilling, hesitating general. When he had frittered away another full month in preparation, in slowly crossing the Potomac, and in moving east of the Blue Ridge and massing his army about Warrenton, a short distance south of the battle-field of Bull Run, without a vigorous offensive, or any discernible intention to make one, the President's patience was finally exhausted, and on November 5 he sent him an order removing him from command. And so ended General McClellan's military career.

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