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VI. VirginiaMcClellan's advance.

the rooted inaction of the Army of the Potomac,1 with the Baltimlore and Ohio Railroad obstructed and broken up on its right, and the navigation of the Potomac precluded2 by Rebel batteries on its left, was stubbornly maintained, in spite of fitful, delusive promises of movement, throughout the Winter of 1861-2. Gen. McClellan, who, from his comfortable house in Washington, issued orders to all the military forces of our country, retained likewise the immediate and especial command of this grand army of 200,000 men, apparently fatigued by the necessity of framing excuse after excuse for its inaction,3 though the most of it remained under tents, exposed to the vicissitudes of a Winter which — though it had been remarkably dry and fine, with the roads in admirable condition, until Christmas — became stormy and inhospitable soon afterward; so that the since famous Stonewall Jackson, who, for eminent services [108] in the battle of Bull Run, had, in September, been promoted to a Major-Generalship, and assigned to command at Winchester, and who had led4 a strong force westward, expecting to surprise and capture our detachments holding Bath and Romney, though lie succeeded in taking both those places, driving out their garrisons, capturing a few prisoners, and destroying at Romney very considerable supplies, yet his unsheltered troops suffered so severely from storm and frost, while so many of his horses were disabled by falling on the icy roads, that his losses probably exceeded the damage inflicted on us; and his blow was fairly countered by Gen. F. W. Lander, who led 4,000 men southward from the Potomac,5 and, bridging the Great Cacapon in the night, made a dash at Blooming Gap, which he surprised, killing 13 and capturing 75 Rebels, including 17 officers, with a loss of 2 men and 6 horses.

Gen. Simon Cameron had been succeeded6 by Hon. Edwin M. Stanton--an eminent lawyer, without pretensions to military knowledge, and of limited experience in public affairs, but evincing a rough energy and zeal for decisive efforts, which the country hailed as of auspicious augury. Two weeks later,7 a War Order was issued by the President, commanding a general advance upon the enemy from every quarter on the 22d of February proximo, and declaring that “the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, with all their subordinates, and the General-in-Chief, with all other commanders and subordinates of land and naval forces, will severally be held to their strict and full responsibilities for the prompt execution of this order.” Four days later, a “Special War order no. 1” was likewise issued to Gen. McClellan, commanding him, on or before the 22d prox. aforesaid, to impel “all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac,” “for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad south-west-ward of what is known as Manassas Junction.” Though these orders are signed Abraham Lincoln, they doubtless received their initial impulse from the new Secretary of War, who had already urged Gen. McClellan to take immediate steps to “secure the reopening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and free the banks of the lower Potomac from the Rebel batteries which annoyed passing vessels.” 8 Gen. M. had been previously urged by the President to organize his army into four or five distinct corps, under Generals of his own choice; which he had declined, and still declined, to do; alleging that he wished first to test his officers in active service as division commanders, so that he “might be able to decide from actual trial who were best fitted to exercise those important commands.” At length,9 the President issued “General War order no. 2,” directing the organization of the Army of the Potomac into four corps, to be commanded by Gens. McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes respectively, beside the forces to be left for the defense of Washington under Brig.-Gen. James S. Wadsworth, who should also be Military Governor of the District of Columbia, and a fifth, composed of the forces on the upper Potomac, to [109] be commanded by Gen. Nath'l P. Banks. Gen. McClellan, “in compliance with the President's War Order No. 2,” made this disposition.10

Gen. McClellan's original plan contemplated an advance on Richmond by way of the lower Rappahannock, landing at Urbana, and making a secondary base of West Point, at the head of York river; and this would seem, whether regarded abstractly or in the light of subsequent experience, to be far preferable to the route on which he ultimately decided, having its base at Fortress Monroe; but either of these, and indeed any approach to Richmond otherwise than from the north, was exposed to the serious if not fatal objection that it involved a division and dispersion of our forces, or left the National metropolis, with its enormous depots of arms, munitions, and provisions, to say nothing of its edifices and archives, at the mercy of the Rebels, who could hardly fail to rush upon, sack, and burn it, if our grand army were transferred bodily to the base of the Virginian Peninsula. The President, therefore, before giving his assent to Gen. McClellan's project, addressed to him the following letter:

Executive Mansion, Washington, February 3, 1862.
my dear Sir: You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac; yours to be done by the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock to Urbana, and across land to the terminus of the railroad on the York river; mine to move directly to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas.

If you will give satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours:

1st. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?

2d. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine?

3d. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine?

4th. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this: that it would break no great line of the enemy's communications, while mine would?

5th. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine?

Yours, truly,

These inquiries seem not to have been directly answered; but, in a long letter of even date, to the Secretary of War, Gen. McClellan urges the strength of the Rebel position at and around Manassas Junction; the reported fact that the fords of the Occoquan were watched by the Rebels and defended by concealed batteries on the heights in their rear, which were being strengthened by additional intrenchments; that, during our advance from the Accotink to the Occoquan, our right flank becomes exposed to an attack from Fairfax Station, Sangster's, and Union Mills; that it would not do to divide our army by leaving a portion in front of Centerville while the rest crosses the Occoquan; that the roads in this quarter were liable, for some time yet, to be obstructed by rains and snow, so that “it seems certain that many weeks may elapse before it is possible to commence the march ;” and that--

Assuming the success of this operation, and the defeat of the enemy as certain, the question at once arises as to the importance of the results gained. I think these results would be confined to the possession of the field of battle, the evacuation of the line of the upper Potomac by the enemy, and the moral effect of the victory; important results, it is true: but not decisive of the war, nor securing the destruction of the enemy's [110] main army; for he could fall back upon other positions, and fight us again and again, should the condition of his troops permit. If he is in no condition to fight us again out of the range of the intrenchments at

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