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Chapter 14: movements of the Army of the Potomac.--the Monitor and Merrimack.

  • Continued inaction of the Grand Army of the Potomac, 353.
  • -- impatience of the President and the people, 354. -- Haughtiness of General McClellan, 355. -- the President orders a movement of all the armies -- McClellan substitutes Argument for obedience. -- patience of the President, 356. -- campaign against Richmond considered -- Army corps formed, 357. -- the Confederates evacuate Manassas, 358.--“Promenade” of the Army of the Potomac -- McClellan relieved of some burden of duty, 359. -- the Merrimack and Monitor, 360. -- onslaught of the Merrimack on National vessels, 361. -- destruction of the latter, 362. -- the Monitor in Hampton Roads, 363. -- Battla between the Monitor and Merrimack, 364. -- result of the fight, 365. -- the contending vessels -- Captain Worden, 366. -- movements in Western Virginia, 367. -- opposing forces in the Shenandoah Valley, 368. -- Shields at Winchester -- skirmish near there, 369. -- battle of Kernstown, 370. -- the defense of Washington City made sure, 371. -- the Confederates on the Peninsula, 372. -- Army of the Potomac checked, 373. -- McClellan complains of a want of force, 374. -- the siege of Yorktown -- Magruder deceives McClellan, 375. -- Confederate re-enforcements sent to Yorktown -- sufferings of the National troops, 376.

The Grand Army of the Potomac had gained strength in numbers and discipline during the months it had been lying in comparatively quiet camps around the National Capital. The battles of Ball's Bluff and Drainsville, already mentioned, had kept it from rusting into absolute immobility; and the troops were made hopeful at times by promises of an immediate advance upon the Confederates at Manassas. But at the beginning of the year 1862, when that army numbered full two hundred thousand men, the prospect of an advance seemed more remote than ever, for the fine weather that had prevailed up to Christmas was succeeded by storms and frost, and the roads in many places soon became almost impassable. Very little preparation had been made for winter quarters, and much suffering and discontent was the consequence.1 The people were exceedingly impatient, and were more disposed to censure the Secretary of War than the General-in-Chief, for they had faith in the latter. They were gratified when Mr. Cameron left the office, and they gave to the new incumbent, Mr. Stanton, their entire confidence.2

The President was much distressed by the inaction of the great army. He could get no satisfaction from the General-in-Chief, when he inquired why that army did not move. Finally, on the 10th of January, he summoned Generals McDowell and Franklin to a conference with himself and his Cabinet. Never, during the whole war, did he exhibit such despondency as at [354] that conference. He spoke of the exhausted condition of the treasury; of the loss of public credit; of the delicate condition of our foreign relations; the critical situation of National affairs in Missouri and Kentucky since Fremont left the Western Department; the lack of co-operation between Generals Halleck and Buell, and the illness of the General-in-Chief, which then, it was said, confined him to his house. He said he was in great distress under the burden of responsibility laid upon him. He had been to the house of the General-in-Chief, who did not ask to see him. He must talk to somebody, and he had sent for McDowell and Franklin to obtain a military opinion as to the probability of an early movement of the army. “If some thing is not soon done,” he said in his simple way, “the bottom will be out of the whole affair; and, if General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it, provided I can see how it could be made to do something.” 3

The President, supported by public opinion, had resolved that something must be done by the army of the Potomac immediately, under the direction of General McClellan, or some other officer, and arrangements were in progress to that effect, when the General-in-Chief, who had been too ill to see the President on the 10th,

Jan., 1862.
was out, and “looking quite well,” on the following day. McDowell and Franklin, meanwhile, had been charged by the President with the duty of submitting a plan of a campaign. The former was decidedly in favor of an advance in heavy force upon the front and flanks of the Confederates at Manassas, whose numbers he was satisfied had been greatly exaggerated.4 Such movement, if successful, would end the disgraceful blockade of the Potomac, and drive the army that was really besieging the National Capital back upon Richmond. General Franklin, who had been somewhat informed by General McClellan of his plans, was in favor of moving on Richmond by way of the Lower Chesapeake and the Virginia Peninsula. They consulted with Quartermaster-General Meigs (who agreed with McDowell), Colonel Kingsbury, the Chief of Ordnance of the Army of the Potomac, General Van Vliet, the Chief Quartermaster, and Major Shiras, the Commissary of Subsistence.

Montgomery O. Meigs.

The subject was discussed by these military officers and the President and his Cabinet on the same evening,

Jan. 11.
when McDowell and Franklin, being in general agreement as to the necessity [355] now of moving directly upon Manassas, recommended such movement. But there was a difference of opinion in the Cabinet.5

Two days afterward there was another meeting of those officers with the President and his Cabinet. General McClellan was present, but took no part in the discussion. He seemed offended; and in reply to some apologetic remarks from McDowell, in explanation of the position in which he and Franklin were placed, the General-in-Chief curtly remarked, “You are entitled to have any opinion you please.” When the President asked McClellan C “what and when any thing could be done, the latter replied, with more force than courtesy, that the case was so clear that a blind man could see it; and then spoke of the difficulty of ascertaining what force he could count upon; that he did not know whether he could let General Butler go to Ship Island,6 or whether he could re-enforce Burnside.”

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