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Chapter 13:

  • Evacuation of Manassas
  • -- Army corps -- McClellan removed from chief command -- President's military orders -- plan of advance on Richmond -- Derangement of all plans by the administration.

The organization of army corps directed by the President's order of March 8, 1862, was the work of the President and Secretary of War, probably urged by McDowell. It was issued without consulting me and against my judgment, for from the beginning it had been my intention to postpone the formation of army corps until service in the field had indicated what general officers were best fitted to exercise those most important commands. The mistakes of an incompetent division commander may be rectified, but those of a corps commander are likely to be fatal. The President designated the senior general officers to command the corps. The day after this order was issued we received information, that seemed reliable, of the evacuation of Manassas. The President and Secretary were with me at the time, and fully approved my determination of going to Porter's headquarters, where I could receive information more readily and be better prepared to act as circumstances might require, whether to move in pursuit or not. I at once sent Averill with a brigade of cavalry to verify the news and do what he could against the enemy's rear-guard; but Gen. Johnston had, as usual, masked his retreat so well that nothing could be effected.

In the course of the evening I determined to move the whole army forward, partly with the hope that I might be able to take advantage of some accident and bring Johnston to battle under favorable circumstances, but also to break up the camps, give the troops a little experience in marching and bivouac before finally leaving the old base of supplies, to test the transportation arrangements and get rid of impedimenta, and thus prepare things for the movement to the Peninsula. It also seemed probable that this advance, in connection with the recent move on Harper's Ferry and Charleston, would tend to make Johnston [223] more uncertain as to my real intentions. In the course of the evening I telegraphed to the Secretary of War:

In the arrangements for the advance of to-morrow it is impossible to carry into effect the arrangements for the formation of army corps. I am obliged to take groups as I find them, and to move them by divisions. I respectfully ask a suspension of the order directing it until the present movement be over.

To this the secretary made the following singular reply:

I think it is the duty of every officer to obey the President's orders. Nor can I see any reason why you should not obey them in the present instance; I must therefore decline to suspend them.

To this I at once replied at one A. M.:

You have entirely misunderstood me, and the idea I intended to convey was simply that I could not, under the pressure of the new aspect of affairs, immediately carry out the President's order as to the formation of army corps. It is absolutely necessary that I should at once move divisions as they stand. If you require me to suspend movements until army corps can be formed, I will do so, but I regard it as a military necessity that the divisions should move to the front at once without waiting for the formation of army corps. If it is your order to wait until the corps can be formed, I will, of course, wait. I will comply with the President's order as soon as possible. I intended to do so to-morrow, but circumstances have changed. If you desire it I will at once countermand all the orders I have given for an advance until the formation of army corps is completed. I have only to add that the order I have given to-night to advance early in the morning was dictated solely by the present condition of affairs. If the leave to suspend the order be granted there will be no unreasonable delay in the formation of army corps. I await your reply here, that, if you so direct, I may countermand my orders at once. Please reply at once.

To this the secretary replied:

I do not understand the President's order as restraining you from any military movement, by divisions or otherwise, that circumstances in your judgment may render expedient, and I certainly do not wish to delay or change any movement whatever [224] that you have made or desire to make. I only wish to avoid giving any sanction to a suspension of a policy which the President has ordered to be pursued; but if you think that the terms of the order as it stands would operate to retard or in any way restrain movements that circumstances require to be made before the army corps are formed, I will assume the responsibility of suspending the order for that purpose, and authorize you to make any movement, by division or otherwise, to your own judgment, without stopping to form the army corps. My desire is that you should exercise every power that you think present circumstances require to be exercised without delay, but I want that you and I should not seem to be desirous of opposing any order of the President without necessity. I say, therefore, move just as you think best now, and let the other matter stand until it can be done without impeding movements.

To this I replied at 2.40 A. M.:

Your reply received. The troops are in motion. I thank you for your despatch: it relieves me much, and you will be convinced that I have not asked too much of you.

It was only by throwing the responsibility of delay upon the secretary that he withdrew his quite unnecessary opposition. My order for the formation of the corps was given on the 13th, as soon as circumstances permitted.

McDowell was very anxious to have the reserve artillery, the cavalry, and the regular infantry attached to his corps; fortunately, I kept them by themselves, or I should, no doubt, have lost them as well as McDowell's own corps.

On the 10th I reached Fairfax Court-House and established headquarters there. It was now evident, from the information received, that it would be impossible to reach the enemy within a reasonable distance from Washington. The various divisions were therefore halted where they stood, at convenient distances from headquarters, and the preparations pushed for embarking for the Peninsula. I threw forward Sumner with two divisions and Stoneman with a cavalry command to proceed as far as the Rapidan and Rappahannock, to secure the crossings and still further deceive the enemy as to my intentions.

While here I learned through the public newspapers that I was displaced in the command of the United States armies. It may be well to state that no one in authority had ever expressed [225] to me the slightest disapprobation of my action in that capacity, nor had I received any information of a purpose to change my position.

President's War order, no. 3,

executive Mansion, Washington, March 11, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. McClellan having personally taken the field at the head of the Army of the Potomac, until otherwise ordered he is relieved from the command of the other military departments, he retaining command of the Department of the Potomac.

Ordered, further, That the departments now under the respective commands of Gens. Halleck and Hunter, together with so much of that under Gen. Buell as lies west of a north and south line indefinitely drawn through Knoxville, Tennessee, be consolidated and designated the Department of the Mississippi; and that, until otherwise ordered, Maj.-Gen. Halleck have command of said department.

Ordered, also, That the country west of the Department of the Potomac and east of the Department of the Mississippi be a military department to be called the Mountain Department, and that the same be commanded by Maj.-Gen. Fremont.

That all the commanders of departments, after the receipt of this order by them, respectively report severally and directly to the Secretary of War, and that prompt, full, and frequent reports will be expected of all and each of them.

The intelligence took me entirely by surprise, and the order proved to be one of the steps taken to tie my hands in order to secure the failure of the approaching campaign. Elsewhere I state the effect of this change in altering the condition of affairs, and breaking that unity of action which it was my purpose to enforce in the operations of the different armies in the field, as well as its effect upon operations in Virginia.

Though unaware of the President's intention to remove me from the position of general-in-chief, I cheerfully acceded to the disposition he saw fit to make of my services, and so informed him in a note on the 12th of March:


Fairfax Court-House, March 12, 1862.
His Excellency A. Lincoln, President:
my dear Sir: I have just seen Gov. Dennison, who has [226] detailed to me the conversation he held with you yesterday and to-day.

I beg to say that I cordially endorse all he has said to you in my behalf, and that I thank you most sincerely for the official confidence and kind personal feelings you entertain for me.

I believe I said to you some weeks since, in connection with some Western matters, that no feeling of self-interest or ambition should ever prevent me from devoting myself to your service. I am glad to have the opportunity to prove it, and you will find that, under present circumstances, I shall work just as cheerfully as before, and that no consideration of self will in any manner interfere with the discharge of my public duties. Again thanking you for the official and personal kindness you have so often evinced towards me,

I am, most sincerely your friend,

While at Fairfax Court-House an order arrived assigning Gen. Wadsworth to the command of Washington. The secretary had spoken to me on the subject some days before, whereupon I objected to the selection for the reason that Gen. Wadsworth was not a soldier by training. I said that one of the very best soldiers in the army was necessary for the command of Washington, which was next in importance to the command of the Army of the Potomac--an officer fully posted in all the details of the profession; and that, much as I should dislike sparing him, I would give up Franklin for the place. The secretary replied that Wadsworth had been selected because it was necessary, for political reasons, to conciliate the agricultural interests of New York, and that it was useless to discuss the matter, because it would in no event be changed.

When Gen. Wadsworth parted from me at Fairfax he professed the greatest devotion and friendship for me, but at once became an enemy, probably because Stanton informed him of the objections I had made to his appointment, without giving him the real grounds of my opposition.

My memorandum of Aug. 2, 1861, shows that even then I regarded Virginia as the most important portion of the immense theatre of operations. Gen. Scott differed from me, and thought the valley of the Mississippi more vital. While fully recognizing the importance and necessity of operations in the valley of the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, and of coast expeditions, [227] I always held the eastern line to be the true theatre of decisive operations.

If I had been retained in chief command, untrammelled as to time and means, I should, in the early spring of 1862, have pushed with all energy the operations against Wilmington, Charleston, and New Orleans, as well as in the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland valleys, and against the Knoxville and Lynchburg Railroad, via Cumberland Gap, and early in May have thrown the Army of the Potomac to the James river with a strength of over 150,000 for duty. I intended to transport by water to Urbana, on the lower Rappahannock, four divisions of infantry with their batteries, the regular infantry, one bridge-train, a few squadrons of cavalry, and a small number of wagons; with them to push by a forced march to the vicinity of West Point, and then cross the Mattapony and Pamunkey rivers, thus compelling the evacuation of Yorktown, and perhaps cutting off Magruder's force in the Peninsula. Meanwhile the reserve artillery, the remaining cavalry, bridge-trains, and necessary wagons were to be concentrated in the vicinity of Point Lookout, and, simultaneously with the landing at Urbana, ferried across the Potomac on North river ferry-boats, marched to the Rappahannock — the movement covered by an infantry force near Heathsville — then ferried over the Rappahannock and moved rapidly to unite with the force first landed. Prior to the evacuation of Yorktown the remaining portions of the army would have been landed at Urbana, and, subsequently to that, at West Point or on the James, as circumstances required.

As soon as the leading divisions of infantry crossed the Pamunkey they would have moved on Richmond, covered by cavalry on both flanks. My letters of Feb. 3 and March 19, 1862, to the Secretary of War, show that, under certain circumstances, I contemplated crossing the James river and attacking Richmond from the south.

The fears of the administration and their inability to comprehend the merits of the scheme, or else the determination that I should not succeed in the approaching campaign, induced them to prohibit me from carrying out the Urbana movement. They gave me the choice between the direct overland route via Manassas, and the route with Fort Monroe as a base. Of course I [228] selected the latter. My report gives all the most important correspondence on this subject, and the arguments I used in support of the plan of campaign which commended itself to my judgment.

Let me here call attention to the President's orders of Jan. 27 and Jan. 31, 1862, and his letter to me of Feb. 3, answered in mine of the same day to the Secretary of War:

President's general War order, no. 1.

executive Mansion, Washington, Jan. 27, 1862.
Ordered, That the 22d day of Feb., 1862, be the day for a general movement of the land and naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces. That especially the army at and about Fortress Monroe, the Army of the Potomac, the Army of Western Virginia the army near Munfordville, Kentucky, the army and flotilla at Cairo, and a naval force in the Gulf of Mexico be ready to move on that day.

That all other forces, both land and naval, with their respective commanders, obey existing orders for the time, and be ready to obey additional orders when duly given.

That the heads of departments, and especially 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 prompt execution of this order.

The order of Jan. 31, 1862, was as follows:

President's special way order, no. 1.

executive Mansion, Washington, Jan. 31, 1862.
Ordered, That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac, after providing safely for the defence of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad southwestward of what is known as Manassas Junction, all details to be in the discretion of the commander-in-chief, and the expedition to move before or on the 22d day of Feb. next.

I asked his excellency whether this order was to be regarded as final, or whether I could be permitted to submit in writing my [229] objections to his plan and my reasons for preferring my own. Permission was accorded, and I therefore prepared the letter to the Secretary of War which is given below.

Before this had been submitted to the President he addressed me the following not:

executive Mansion Washington Feb. 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 questions were substantially answered by the following letter of the same date to the Secretary of War:

headquarters of the Army, Washington, Feb. 3, 1862.
Sir: I ask your indulgence for the following papers, rendered necessary by circumstances.

I assumed command of the troops in the vicinity of Washington on Saturday, July 27, 1861, six days after the battle of Bull Run.

I found no army to command — a mere collection of regiments cowering on the banks of the Potomac, some perfectly raw, others dispirited by the recent defeat.

Nothing of any consequence had been done to secure the southern approaches to the capital by means of defensive works; nothing whatever had been undertaken to defend the avenues to the city on the northern side of the Potomac. [230]

The troops were not only undisciplined, undrilled, and dispirited; they were not even placed in military positions. The city was almost in a condition to have been taken by a dash of a regiment of cavalry.

Without one day's delay I undertook the difficult task assigned to me. That task the honorable secretary knows was given to me without solicitation or foreknowledge. How far I have accomplished it will best be shown by the past and the present.

The capital is secure against attack; the extensive fortifications erected by the labor of our troops enable a small garrison to hold it against a numerous army; the enemy have been held in check; the State of Maryland is securely in our possession, the detached counties of Virginia are again within the pale of our laws, and all apprehension of trouble in Delaware is at an end; the enemy are confined to the positions they occupied before the disaster of the 21st July. More than all this, I have now under my command a well-drilled and reliable army, to which the destinies of the country may be confidently committed. This army is young and untried in battle, but it is animated by the highest spirit and is capable of great deeds.

That so much has been accomplished and such an army created in so short a time from nothing will hereafter be regarded as one of the highest glories of the administration and the nation.

Many weeks — I may say many months — ago this Army of the Potomac was fully in condition to repel any attack; but there is a vast difference between that and the efficiency required to enable troops to attack successfully an army elated by victory and entrenched in a position long since selected, studied, and fortified.

In the earliest papers I submitted to the President I asked for an effective and movable force far exceeding the aggregate now on the banks of the Potomac. I have not the force I asked for.

Even when in a subordinate position I always looked beyond the operations of the Army of the Potomac. I was never satisfied in my own mind with a barren victory, but looked to combined and decisive operations.

When I was placed in command of the armies of the United States I immediately turned my attention to the whole field of operations, regarding the Army of the Potomac as only one, while the most important, of the masses under my command.

I confess that I did not then appreciate the total absence of a general plan which had before existed, nor did I know that utter disorganization and want of preparation pervaded the Western armies.

I took it for granted that they were nearly, if not quite, in [231] condition to move towards the fulfilment of my plans. I acknowledge that I made a great mistake.

I sent at once, with the approval of the executive, officers I considered competent to command in Kentucky and Missouri. Their instructions looked to prompt movements. I soon found that the labor of creation and organization had to be performed there; transportation, arms, clothing, artillery, discipline — all were wanting. These things required time to procure them.

The generals in command have done their work most creditably, but we are still delayed. I had hoped that a general advance could be made during the good weather of December; I was mistaken.

My wish was to gain possession of the Eastern Tennessee Railroad as a preliminary movement, then to follow it up immediately by an attack on Nashville and Richmond, as nearly at the same time as possible.

I have ever regarded our true policy as being that of fully preparing ourselves, and then seeking for the most decisive results. I do not wish to waste life in useless battles, but prefer to strike at the heart.

Two bases of operations seem to present themselves for the advance of the Army of the Potomac:

1st. That of Washington — its present position — involving a direct attack upon the entrenched positions of the enemy at Centreville, Manassas, etc., or else a movement to turn one or both flanks of those positions, or a combination of the two plans.

The relative force of the two armies will not justify an attack on both flanks; an attack on his left flank alone involves a long line of wagon communication, and cannot prevent him from collecting for the decisive battle all the detachments now on his extreme right and left.

Should we attack his right flank by the line of the Occoquan, and a crossing of the Potomac below that river and near his batteries, we could perhaps prevent the junction of the enemy's right with his centre (we might destroy the former); we would remove the obstructions to the navigation of the Potomac, reduce the length of wagon transportation by establishing new depots at the nearest points of the Potomac, and strike more directly his main railway communication.

The fords of the Occoquan below the mouth of the Bull Run are watched by the rebels; batteries are said to be placed on the heights in the rear (concealed by the woods), and the arrangement of his troops is such that he can oppose some considerable resistance to a passage of that stream. Information has just been received to the effect that the enemy are entrenching a line of heights extending from the vicinity of Sangster's (Union Mills) towards Evansport. Early in January Spriggs's ford was occupied [232] by General Rhodes with 3,600 men and eight (8) guns; there are strong reasons for believing that Davis's ford is occupied. These circumstances indicate or prove that the enemy anticipates the movement in question, and is prepared to resist it. Assuming for the present that this operation is determined upon, it may be well to examine briefly its probable progress. In the present state of affairs our column (for the movement of so large a force must be made in several columns, at least five or six) can reach the Accotink without danger; during the march thence to the Occoquan our right flank becomes exposed to an attack from Fairfax Station, Sangster's, and Union Mills. This danger must be met by occupying in some force either the two first-named places, or, better, the point of junction of the roads leading thence to the village of Occoquan; this occupation must be continued so long as we continue to draw supplies by the roads from this city, or until a battle is won.

The crossing of the Occoquan should be made at all the fords from Wolf's Run to the mouth, the points of crossing not being necessarily confined to the fords themselves. Should the enemy occupy this line in force we must, with what assistance the flotilla can afford, endeavor to force the passage near the mouth, thus forcing the enemy to abandon the whole line or be taken in flank himself.

Having gained the line of the Occoquan, it would be necessary to throw a column by the shortest route to Dumfries, partly to force the enemy to abandon his batteries on the Potomac, partly to cover our left flank against an attack from the direction of Acquia, and, lastly, to establish our communications with the river by the best roads, and thus give us new depots. The enemy would by this time have occupied the line of the Occoquan above Bull Run, holding Brentsville in force, and perhaps extending his lines somewhat further to the southwest.

Our next step would then be to prevent the enemy from crossing the Occoquan between Bull Run and Broad Run, to fall upon our right flank while moving on Brentsville. This might be effected by occupying Bacon Race church and the cross-roads near the mouth of Bull Run, or still more effectually by moving to the fords themselves and preventing, him from debouching on our side.

These operations would possibly be resisted, and it would require some time to effect them, as, nearly at the same time as possible, we should gain the fords necessary to our purposes above Broad Run. Having secured our right flank, it would become necessary to carry Brentsville at any cost, for we could not leave it between the right flank and the main body. The final movement on the railroad must be determined by circumstances existing at the time.

This brief sketch brings out in bold relief the great advantage [233] possessed by the enemy in the strong central position he occupies, with roads diverging in every direction, and a strong line of defence enabling him to remain on the defensive, with a small force on one flank, while he concentrates everything on the other for a decisive action.

Should we place a portion of our force in front of Centreville, while the rest crosses the Occoquan, we commit the error of dividing our army by a very difficult obstacle, and by a distance too great to enable the two parts to support each other, should either be attacked by the masses of the enemy while the other is held in check.

I should perhaps have dwelt more decidedly on the fact that the force left near Sangster's must be allowed to remain somewhere on that side of the Occoquan until the decisive battle is over, so as to cover our retreat in the event of disaster, unless it should be decided to select and entrench a new base somewhere near Dumfries — a proceeding involving much time.

After the passage of the Occoquan by the main army this covering force could be drawn into a more central and less exposed position — say Brimstone Hill or nearer the Occoquan. In this latitude the weather will for a considerable period be very uncertain, and a movement commenced in force on roads in tolerably firm condition will be liable, almost certain, to be much delayed by rains and snow. It will, therefore, be best to impossible to surprise the enemy or take him at a disadvantage by rapid manoeuvres. Our slow progress will enable him to divine our purposes and take his measures accordingly. The probability is, from the best information we possess, that the enemy has improved the roads leading to his lines of defence, while we have to work as we advance.

Bearing in mind what has been said, and the present unprecedented and impassable condition of the roads, it will be evident that no precise period can be fixed upon for the movement on this line. Nor can its duration be closely calculated; it seems certain that many weeks may elapse before it is possible to commence the march. 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 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 entrenchments at Richmond, we would find it a very difficult and tedious matter to follow him up there, for he would destroy his railroad bridges and otherwise impede our progress [234] through a region where the roads are as bad as they well can be, and we would probably find ourselves forced at last to change the whole theatre of war, or to seek a shorter land route to Richmond, with a smaller available force and at an expenditure of much more time, than were we to adopt the short line at once. We would also have forced the enemy to concentrate his forces and perfect his defensive measures at the very points where it is desirable to strike him when least prepared.

2d. The second base of operations available for the Army of the Potomac is that of the lower Chesapeake bay, which affords the shortest possible land route to Richmond and strikes directly at the heart of the enemy's power in the east.

The roads in that region are passable at all seasons of the year.

The country now alluded to is much more favorable for offensive operations than that in front of Washington (which is very unfavorable): much more level, more cleared land, the woods less dense, the soil more sandy, and the spring some two or three weeks earlier. A movement in force on that line obliges the enemy to abandon his entrenched position at Manassas, in order to hasten to cover Richmond and Norfolk. He must do this; for should he permit us to occupy Richmond his destruction can be averted only by entirely defeating us in a battle in which he must be the assailant. This movement, if successful, gives us the capital, the communications, the supplies of the rebels; Norfolk would fall; all the waters of the Chesapeake would be ours; all Virginia would be in our power, and the enemy forced to abandon Tennessee and North Carolina. The alternative presented to the enemy would be, to beat us in a position selected by ourselves, disperse, or pass beneath the Caudine Forks.

Should we be beaten in a battle we have a perfectly secure retreat down the Peninsula upon Fort Monroe, with our flanks perfectly covered by the fleet.

During the whole movement our left flank is covered by the water. Our right is secure, for the reason that the enemy is too distant to reach us in time; he can only oppose us in front. We bring our fleet into full play.

After a successful battle our position would be — Burnside forming our left; Norfolk held securely: our centre connecting Burnside with Buell, both by Raleigh and Lynchburg; Buell in Eastern Tennessee and North Alabama; Halleck at Nashvilie and Memphis.

The next movement would be to connect with Sherman on the left by reducing Wilmington and Charleston; to advance our centre into South Carolina and Georgia; to push Buell either towards Montgomery or to unite with the main army in Georgia; to throw Halleck southward to meet the naval expedition from New Orleans. [235]

We should then be in a condition to reduce at our leisure all the Southern seaports; to occupy all the avenues of communication; to use the great outlet of the Mississippi; to re-establish our government and arms in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas; to force the slaves to labor for our subsistence instead of that of the rebels; to bid defiance to all foreign interference. Such is the object I have ever had in view; this is the general plan which I hope to accomplish.

For many long months I have labored to prepare the Army of the Potomac to play its part in the programme; from the day when I was placed in command of all our armies I have exerted myself to place all the other armies in such a condition that they, too, could perform their allotted duties.

Should it be determined to operate from the lower Chesapeake, the point of landing which promises the most brilliant result is Urbana, on the lower Rappahannock. This point is easily reached by vessels of heavy draught; it is neither occupied nor observed by the enemy; it is but one march from West Point, the key of that region, and thence but two marches to Richmond. A rapid movement from Urbana would probably cut off Magruder in the Peninsula and enable us to occupy Richmond before it could be strongly reinforced. Should we fail in that we could, with the co-operation of the navy, cross the James and throw ourselves in rear of Richmond, thus forcing the enemy to come out and attack us, fur his position would be untenable with us on the southern bank of the river.

Should circumstances render it not advisable to land at Urbana we can use Mobjack bay; or, the worst coming to the worst, me can take Fort Monroe as a base and operate with complete security, although with less celerity and brilliancy of results, up the Peninsula.

To reach whatever point may be selected as a base, a large amount of cheap water transportation must be collected, consisting mainly of canal-boats, barges, mood-boats, schooners, etc., towed by small steamers, all of a very different character from those required for all previous expeditions. This can certainly be accomplished within thirty days from the time the order is given. I propose, as the best possible plan that can, in my judgment, be adopted, to select Urbana as a landing-place for the first detachments; to transport by water four divisions of infantry with their batteries, the regular infantry, a fern wagons, one bridge-train, and a few squadrons of cavalry, making the vicinity of Hooker's position the place of embarkation for as many as possible; to move the regular cavalry and reserve artillery, the remaining bridge-trains and wagons, to a point somewhere near Cape Lookout, then ferry them over the river by means of North river ferry-boats, march them over to the Rappahannock (covering the movement by an infantry force near Heathsville), and [236] to cross the Rappahannock in a similar way. The expense and difficulty of the movement will then be very much diminished (a saving of transportation of about 10,000 horses) and the result none the less certain.

The concentration of the cavalry, etc., on the lower counties of Maryland can be effected without exciting suspicion, and the movement made without delay from that cause.

This movement, if adopted, will not at all expose the city of Washington to danger.

The total force to be thrown upon the new line would be, according to circumstances, from 110,000 to 140,000. I hope to use the latter number by bringing fresh troops into Washington and still leaving it quite safe. I fully realize that in all projects offered time will probably be the most valuable consideration. It is my decided opinion that, in that point of view, the second plan should be adopted. It is possible, nay, highly probable, that the weather and state of the roads may be such as to delay the direct movement from Washington, with its unsatisfactory results and great risks, far beyond the time required to complete the second plan. In the first case we can fix no definite time for an advance. The roads have gone from bad to worse. Nothing like their present condition was ever known here before; they are impassable at present. We are entirely at the mercy of the weather. It is by no means certain that we can beat them at Manassas. On the other line I regard success as certain by all the chances of war. We demoralize the enemy by forcing him to abandon his prepared position for one which we have chosen, in which all is in our favor, and where success must produce immense results.

My judgment, as a general, is clearly in favor of this project. Nothing is certain in war, but all the chances are in favor of this movement. So much am I in favor of the southern line of operations that I would prefer the move from Fortress Monroe as a base, as a certain though less brilliant movement than that from Urbana, to an attack upon Mannssas.

I know that his excellency the President, you, and I all agree in our wishes; and that these wishes are, to bring this war to a close as promptly as the means in our possession will permit. I believe that the mass of the people have entire confidence in us — I am sure of it. Let us, then, look only to the great result to be accomplished, and disregard everything else.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Geo. B. McClellan, Maj.-Gen. Commanding. Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

This letter must have produced some effect upon the mind of [237] the President, since the execution of his order was not required, although it was not revoked as formally as it had been issued. Many verbal conferences ensued, in which, among other things, it was determined to collect as many canal-boats as possible, with a view to employ them largely in the transportation of the army to the lower Chesapeake. The idea was at one time entertained by the President to use them in forming a bridge across the Potomac near Liverpool Point, in order to throw the army over at that point; but this was subsequently abandoned. It was also found by experience that it would require much time to prepare the canal-boats for use in transportation to the extent that had been anticipated.

Finally, on the 27th of Feb., 1862, the Secretary of War, by the authority of the President, instructed Mr. John Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War, to procure at once the necessary steamers and sailing craft to transport the Army of the Potomac to its new field of operations.

The following extract from the report of Mr. Tucker, dated April 5, will show the nature and progress of this well-executed service:

. . . . . . . .

I was called to Washington by telegraph, on 17th Jan. last, by Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott. I was informed that Maj.-Gen. McClellan wished to see me. From him I learned that he desired to know if transportation on smooth water could be obtained to move at one time, for a short distance, about 50,000 troops, 10,000 horses, 1,000 wagons, 13 batteries, and the usual equipment of such an army. He frankly stated to me that he had always supposed such a movement entirely feasible until two experienced quartermasters had recently reported it impracticable, in their judgment. A few days afterwards I reported to Gen. McClellan that I was entirely confident the transports could be commanded, and stated the mode by which his object could be accomplished. A week or two afterwards I had the honor of an interview with the President and Gen. McClellan, when the subject was further discussed, and especially as to the time required.

I expressed the opinion that as the movement of the horses and wagons would have to be made chiefly by schooners and barges, that as each schooner would require to be properly fitted for the protection of the horses, and furnished with a supply of water and forage, and each transport for the troops provided with water, I did not deem it prudent to assume that such an [238] expedition could start within thirty days from the time the order was given.

The President and Gen. McClellan both urgently stated the vast importance of an earlier movement. I replied that if favorable winds prevailed, and there was great despatch in loading, the time might be materially diminished.

On the 14th Feb. you (Secretary of War) advertised for transports of various descriptions, inviting bids on the 27th Feb. I was informed that the proposed movement by water was decided upon. That evening the quartermaster-general was informed of the decision. Directions were given to secure the transportation; any assistance was tendered. He promptly detailed to this duty two most efficient assistants in his department. Col. Rufus Ingalis was stationed at Annapolis, where it was then proposed to embark the troops, and Capt. Henry C. Hodges was directed to meet me in Philadelphia to attend to chartering the vessels. With these arrangements I left Washington on the 28th Feb.

I beg to hand herewith a statement, prepared by Capt. Hodges, of the vessels chartered, which exhibits the prices paid and parties from whom they were taken:

113steamers, at an average price per day,$215 10
188schooners, at an average price per day,24 45
88barges, at an average price per day,14 27

In thirty-seven days from the time I received the order in Washington (and most of it was accomplished in thirty days), these vessels transported from Perryville, Alexandria, and Washington to Fort Monroe (the place of departure having been changed, which caused delay) 121,500 men, 14,592 animals, 1,150 wagons, 44 batteries, 74 ambulances, besides pontoon bridges, telegraph materials, and the enormous quantity of equipage, etc., required for an army of such magnitude. The only loss of which I have heard is eight mules and nine barges, which latter went ashore in a gale within a few miles of Fort Monroe, the cargoes being saved. With this trifling exception not the slightest accident has occurred, to my knowledge.

I respectfully, but confidently, submit that, for economy and celerity of movement, this expedition is without a parallel on record.

John Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War.

The same order which confined my command to the Department [239] of the Potomac placed Buell under Halleck, and created the Mountain Department, extending from the western limits of the Department of the Potomac to the eastern boundary of Halleck's command.

The Department of the Potomac then included all that part of Virginia east of the Alleghanies and north of the James river, with the exception of Fortress Monroe and the country within sixty miles thereof; also the District of Columbia and the States of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. During the latter part of March, as I have already stated, Fortress Monroe and its dependencies were added to my command (but the order was countermanded on the 3d of April). Thus, when about to start for the Peninsula it was my duty to provide for the security of Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, and all operations in that region were under my direction.

It was very clear to me that the enemy did not abandon their positions on the Potomac and near Manassas without some good reason. I knew that they could not intend to return immediately, that they would never undertake the assault of the works around Washington, and that from the moment the operations by the lower Chesapeake were developed they would be tied down to the vicinity of Richmond so long as the Army of the Potomac remained anywhere near the James river. All they could attempt would be a raid in the Shenandoah. I therefore1

1 The following memoranda were found lying with the manuscript at this point:

memoranda.--On the 5th of March there were no transports of importance at Annapolis, some at Perryville and Washington, and many engaged and fitting up in New York.

On March 12 there were at Alexandria transports for 15,000 infantry and one squadron, but they were not coaled or ready to receive the troops. The pontoon trains and engineers' tools were loaded up.

March 17 the leading division — Hamilton's — embarked.

March 20 there were eight to ten horse-transports at the wharves of Alexandria and as many more at anchor. Artillery — transports ready at the wharves.

March 21--Porter's artillery in Alexandria, but no sufficient accommodation for the horses and no arrangement of vessels for infantry and artillery.

March 22--Porter's division moved off in splendid style and well provided; reached Fortress Monroe on the 23d.

March 23--Only 150 horses fit for artillery in Alexandria depot; 300 expected next day.

March 24--Many new regiments arriving from the North. No additional transportation. Hunt and Averill can embark.

/note> [240] regarded a full garrison for Washington and 20,000 men for the Shenandoah as more than enough under existing circumstances. The instructions I gave on the 16th of March were to the effect that Manassas Junction should be strongly entrenched, using the enemy's works as far as possible, and that Gen. Banks should put the mass of his forces there, with grand guards at Warrenton or Warrenton Junction, and, if possible, as far out as the Rappahannock; the country to be thoroughly scouted by cavalry, the railway from Washington to Manassas and thence to Strasburg to be at once repaired and put in running order, all the bridges to be protected by block-houses; as soon as the railway was in operation a brigade of infantry with two batteries to be strongly entrenched at or near the point where the railroad crosses the Shenandoah; Chester Gap to be also occupied by an infantry detachment well entrenched; two regiments of cavalry to be added to this brigade to scour the valley thoroughly. Under this arrangement the immediate approaches to Washington would be covered by a strong, force well entrenched, and able to fall back upon the city if overpowered; while if the enemy advanced down the Shenandoah the force entrenched at Strasburg would be able to hold him in check until assistance could reach them by rail from Manassas. If these measures had been carried into effect Jackson's subsequent advance down the Shenandoah would have been impracticable; but, unfortunately, as soon as I started for the Peninsula this region was withdrawn from my command, and my instructions were wholly disregarded.

Again, with Manassas entrenched as I directed, Pope would have had a secure base of operations from which to manoeuvre, and the result of his campaign might have been very different. Certainly, if I had resumed command at Manassas instead of within the defences of Washington, Lee would not have ventured to cross the Potomac.

On the 1st of April, in view of what had occurred meanwhile, I temporarily changed the arrangements to the extent of leaving Banks in the Shenandoah. I placed Abercrombie in command at Warrenton and Manassas, under Banks's general orders, with 7,780 men at the former and 10,859 men at the latter place, and 18,000 men in Washington so that if Abercrombie was obliged to [241] retire upon Washington there would be concentrated there 36,639 men, besides 1,350 on the lower Potomac and 35,467 under Banks in the Shenandoah.

In the event of an advance of the enemy in force in the Shenandoah Valley, Banks could have withdrawn to his aid at least 10,000 men from Abercrombie's command, or, in the reverse case, could hare gone to the latter's assistance with at least 30,000 men, leaving his Strasburg entrenchments well guarded. Had I remained in command I would have seen to it that the entrenchments referred to were promptly executed.

To say that the force I left behind me was, under the circumstances of the case, insufficient is an untruth which proves either complete ignorance or wilful malevolence. The quality of the troops I left was amply good for the purposes in view.

The administration actually retained about 134,000 for the defence of Washington, leaving me but 85,000 for operations.

Gen. Wadsworth received clear instructions as to his duties. On the 4th of April the Valley of the Shenandoah was formed into a department under Gen. Banks, while the Department of the Rappahannock was constituted for McDowell. This department embraced “that portion of Virginia east of the Blue Ridge and west of the Potomac and the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, including the District of Columbia and the country between the Potomac and the Patuxent.”

Thus, instead of operating with an army of 156,000 men under my immediate command, with control of all the forces, supplies, and operations from the Atlantic to the Alleghanies and from the North Carolina line to New York, I was reduced to 85,000 men and a little strip of ground bounded on the west by the railroad from Fredericksburg to Richmond, on the south by the James from Richmond to the mouth of the Appomattox, on the east by a curved line running from the mouth of the Appomattox to a point on the Chickahominy between Long's and Bottom's bridges, thence to the White House on the Pamunkey, thence through King and Queen Court-House to a point on the Rappahannock about ten miles above Urbana, and thence to the mouth of the Potomac, the northern boundary being the Potomac from the mouth of Acquia creek downward. My bases of operations at Washington and Fortress Monroe were both removed from my control, and I remained simply with my 85,000 [242] men, and not even the ground they occupied until I passed beyond White House.

Add to this consideration that I had now only too good reason to feel assured that the administration, and especially the Secretary of War, were inimical to me and did not desire my success, and some conception may be formed of the weight upon my mind at a time when whatever hopefulness and vigor I possessed were fully needed to overcome the difficulties in my path.

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