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Chapter 14:

  • Letters and despatches relating to subjects treated in the foregoing and following chapters.

Halleck to McClellan.

St. Louis, March 10, 8 P. M.
Gen. Mcclellan: Reserves intended for Gen. Curtis will now be drawn in as rapidly as possible and sent to the Tennessee river. I purpose going there in a few days. That is now the great strategic line of the Western campaign, and I am surprised that Gen. Buell should hesitate to reinforce me. He was too late at Fort Donelson, as Gen. Hunter has been in Arkansas. I am obliged to make my calculations independent of both. Believe me, general, you make a serious mistake in having three independent commands in the West. There never will and never can be any co-operation at the critical moment; all military history proves it. You will regret your decision against me on this point. Your friendship for individuals has influenced your judgment. Be it so. I shall soon fight a great battle on the Tennessee river, unsupported it seems; but if successful it will settle the campaign in the West.

H. W. Halleck, Maj.-Gen.

By the time this reached me I was no longer the general-in-chief. It may suffice to say that I had never been intimate with Buell, and that my friendship for him grew out of my admiration for his excellent character and high soldierly qualities. I regarded him as a far better soldier than Halleck, and the subsequent course of events did not modify my views. If I had placed any one in command of ail the operations in the West it would have been Buell and not Halleck. I could not then place Buell in that position, and was consequently obliged to do the best I could with a divided command.

Burnside to McClellan. Unofficial letter.

Roanoke island, March 5, 1862.
my dear Mac.: My official report will be short to-day, as [244] nothing of importance has transpired since my last. It is due to me to say confidentially to you that we are waiting on the naval ammunition, our supplies having arrived some time since in sufficient quantities to move. I am embarking my men as fast as possible. All Reno's brigade is on board, half of Parke's, and half of Foster's; and I hope to get them all on board to-morrow, leaving Col. Hawkins, with three regiments, in command of the island. I hope to get off to-morrow night, and will move at once upon New Berne; but I am not sure of it, as we cannot calculate upon more than one good day in the week. But we are getting used to storms, so that we don't mind them. How we have escaped with so little loss of life is to me a miracle. I feel thankful enough.

During our delay here I came very near moving upon [illegible], making my headquarters there, and rushing some columns up to burn the bridges on the Black Water, Nottoway, and Menheim, and then rush with my entire force upon Weldon and Gaston. But it is a risky move with my small force, and your orders are to go to New Berne. The same move can be made after we get New Berne (if we succeed), if you will send me men enough — say double the force. I feel sure that I can cut the enemy's communications at Weldon and Gaston with an additional force of even two regiments. In case you decide to send them you must not hesitate to send any division you like, as I am quite willing to serve under any other officer. You know, Mac., what I want, and that is peace and quietness at home. If I succeed in taking New Berne and Fort Macon I shall at once return to this place, unless otherwise ordered by you. I shall send off another mail very soon. If we move in the interior we will need more wagons — say 150--and teams. Please let me know fully as to your wishes, and I'll follow them out to the letter.

It must be a great gratification to you to see all your plans in all parts of the army succeed. Hold on, old fellow, and don't let the politicians drive you. You know old Davy Crockett's saying: “Be sure you're right, then go ahead.” . . . I have two parties out to burn the bridges over the Trent at New Berne and the Tar at Washington, the result of which I hoped to report by this mail, but the bad weather has doubtless delayed them.

Your old friend,

Same to same, Unofficial.

New Berne, March 15, 1862.
my dear Mac.: We've got New Berne, and I hope to have Fort Macon before long. [245]

I've followed your instructions to the letter, and have succeeded.

You'll come out all right. You know my faith in you. Hope you'll soon wipe them out. . . . If I had 40,000 men like these I could do almost anything.

Your old friend,

Same to same. Unofficial.

New Berne, May 5, 1862.
my dear Mac.: We're now in a state of “stand still.” Fort Macon has been reduced, and I am ordering Parke up to this place with his men. We have more sickness than I like to acknowledge; but we are improving, and are not weak now. If you want us to do anything within our strength we'll do it. Don't fail to command me. . . . When you start the rebels from Yorktown please let me know at once, and I'll give them a kick in the flank that will make them see stars.

Stick to them, old fellow, and don't allow the politicians to get you into a controversy. You have acted wisely, and you'll come out all right. In God is our trust. Tell me what to do, and I'll try to do it. . . . You know as well as I that it is easier to turn a flank than force a front.

God bless you!

Your old friend,


Supposing Burnside's force 15,000 :

In event of movement on [illegible1], etc., would probably have to leave at least 5,000 in New Berne, 1,000 as railway guards, 1,000 Beaufort and Fort Macon, 500 Hatteras Inlet, 1 ,000 Roanoke--8,500 in all, leaving not over 6,000 or 6,500 for active operations; too small to do much good. While by operating on Goldsborough would have to leave, say, 1,000 at Roanoke, 500 Beaufort, 1,000 New Berne, leaving 12,500 available in the field.

I would therefore think that a cautious yet bold advance on Goldsborough as soon as transportation arrives would produce a better effect than anything else that can be done, and would have the effect to neutralize a large portion of the enemy's force.


Barnard to McClellan.

Washington, March 19, 1862, 2.30 P. M.
dear general: Fox didn't like the propeller plan; thinks the channel could not be effectually obstructed in that way. I told him you and I both objected to the other (landing plan), which I consider an exact parallel to the expedition of Hooker's to capture the Potomac batteries, and where he would have got captured himself; or, more truly, to the last plan, to make a campaign merely to take batteries as preliminary to a campaign. I just saw Stanton, and was must gratified by what he said. It was: “Gen. McClellan has no firmer friend than myself; but I may not be where I am long.” “I think Gen, McClellan ought not to move till he is fully ready.”

I told him that the Mystic would be in Hampton Roads in ten days, and then we could certainly control the Merrimac and have a big steamer or two for Yorktown. He repeated: “He ought not to put a man afloat till he is ready.”

In great haste,

Same to same

STEAMSHIP Minnesota, 3 P. M., Thursday, March 20, 1862.
Gen. G. B. McClellan;
dear general: Woodbury left day before yesterday, I wonder I did not hear of him yesterday in town. I had an interview with Gen. Wool this morning. He was very friendly, and said he would do everything; but it is a great drawback, this having two commanders. For instance, there are several bridges over Back river that ought to be rebuilt. General Wool said that he was going out to-day to direct one on the principal road to be rebuilt, but Houston told me that they expected Hamilton's division to do such things. Now, Hamilton is perfectly ignorant of localities, and his division in the confusion of arrival. If Wool's force is to co-operate it is a. great misfortune that it can't be ordered what to do. That letter expressing readiness to do everything amounts to nothing. Houston is here getting information, but I have not had time to see what he has done.

Now for Goldsborough. He is very much in favor of reinforcing Burnside and taking Norfolk from the Chowan and Currituck; but if this is not done his ideas are essentially coincident with yours — landing on Back bay or York river or the Poquosin, at the same time with an advance from here, carrying Yorktown, then marching on Richmond, and then taking Norfolk. [247]

He is opposed and pronounces impracticable the operation proposed by Fox on Sewell's Point, and also considers any operation on Norfolk from here impracticable while the Merrimac is extant. He says he is responsible to the country for keeping down the Merrimac, and has perfect confidence that he can do it, but cannot spare from here anything except the following:

Victoria--two eight-inch guns and one thirty-two-pound Parrott;

Anacostia, Freeborn, Island Belle--Potomac fleet;

Octoroon--not yet arrived; Fox calls her a regular gunboat of four guns;

Currituck--merchant steamer like the Potomac gunboats, I suppose;

Daylight--merchant steamer like the Potomac gunboats, I suppose; and two regular gunboats — the Chocorua, not yet arrived, and the Penobscot, here — these two carrying each two eleven-inch guns.

He says he can't furnish vessels to attack Yorktown simultaneously, but he thinks what you propose is easily done; that the vessels he mentions are fully adequate to cover a landing, and that, with a landing and an advance from here, Yorktown will fall.

He recommends — and it may be a good idea — a landing in the Severn simultaneously, taking Gloucester in the rear, and from there battering Yorktown. Yorktown and Gloucester taken, the small gunboats, regular and irregular, will be enough to command the navigation of the York river. He thinks, and Gen. Wool thinks, that the whole attention of the enemy is concentrated on Norfolk; that they are reinforcing that place and increasing their batteries day and night, and that Magruder is not reinforced. Wool thinks that some troops passed over from north to south side of James river recently to reinforce Huger.

This is all I can write now. I must stay a little.longer to get some definite information about the places where we propose to land. There are 20,000 available men (nearly) here now (including Wool's, Mansfield's, etc.), and 20,000 men for the landing ought to be enough for the first operations. . . .

Very truly yours,

Barnard to Colrurn, A. A. G.

Washington, March 23, 10 P. M.
Col. A. V. Colburn, A. A. G.:
I have endeavored to get some plan arranged and means procured for the most important part of our enterprise — viz., a landing. The only means we have now are the bateaux. These [248] I had intended to go with Capt. Duane's command and with McDowell's corps. I learned to-day that the Annapolis bateaux had been ordered to Fortress Monroe. The trestles or the india-rubber or the canvas boats will answer for crossing the creeks, and all the bateaux should be with the landing corps — McDowell's. To-day I had a consultation with McDowell, and it was decided to place the whole matter of providing means of landing under Gen. Woodbury, and to put temporarily Capt. Duane under his command; to have the necessary scows, canal-boats, etc., prepared immediately; and the bateaux are to form an essential part of the means. The orders have been issued by Gen. McDowell for that purpose. Unless the arrangements are made now it is out of the question to think of landing any considerable force as a tactical or strategical operation. One company of Duane's command might go with the land forces to put down trestle-bridges — perhaps two companies; but he himself and all the bateaux should go with McDowell, and Woodbury will furnish the additional men necessary and see to the getting — up of arrangements. Answer as soon as possible.

Same to same.

Washington, March 24, 1862.
Col. A. V. Colburn, A. A. G.:
The general's telegram received. Gen. Woodbury will go to headquarters to-day and concert matters so that there shall be no misunderstanding. The streams on the Peninsula are narrow where crossed by the road--forty to eighty feet wide — and the Newport News road requires no bridges. It is desirable to know — for the constant uncertainty about this has embarrassed us — whether Capt. Duane or any portion of his command is to leave before McDowell's corps; if so, how much of it, and when. Let me know when to join headquarters . . . .

J. G. Barnard, Brig-Gen., etc.

McClellan to Fox.

Fairfax Court-House, March 12.
Hon. G. O. Fox, Assist. Sec. Navy:
Can I rely on the Monitor to keep the Merrimac in check, so that I can take Fortress Monroe as a base of operation?

G. B. McClellan, Maj.--Gen.


Fox to McClellan.

The Monitor is more than a match for the Merrimac, but she might be disabled in the next encounter. I cannot advise so great dependence to be placed upon her. Burnside and Goldsborough are very strong for the Chorvan river route to Norfolk, and I brought up maps, explanations, etc. It turns everything, and is only twenty-seven miles to Norfolk by two good roads. Burnside will have New Berne this week. The Merrimac must go into dock for repairs. The Monitor may, and I think will, destroy the Merrimac in the next fight; but this is hope, not certainty.

G. O. Fox, Assist. Sec. Navy.
P. S.--In my opinion the Merrimac does not intend to pass by Fort Monroe. I am also of the opinion that we shall take her if she does so pass. I think the above is sure enough to make any movement upon.

G. O. Fox, Assist. Sec. Navy.

Wise to McClellan.

In reply to your telegram I am clearly of opinion that the Monitor will be fully able to hold the Merrimac in check should she attempt to pass Fortress Monroe.

Wool to McClellan.

It is thought the Monitor is a match for the Merrimac. The former has two guns, the latter eight. The Monitor is our chief dependence. If any accident should befall her Newport News would be taken, probably depending on the land force.

It is said Magruder has from 15,000 to 18,000 men extending from James river to Yorktown. I have almost 12,500 effective troops, including the garrison of Fortress Monroe, and only about 110 regulars artillery. I do not believe the channel could be blocked between Sewell's Point and Craney island without [250] first taking Sewell's battery, consisting of from 25 to 30 guns, several of which are 10-inch.

John E. Wool, Maj.-Gen.

Heintzelman to McClellan.

Allow me to recommend to you to have a complete survey made, by the engineers, of the enemy's works at Centreville and Manassas, with a memoir to meet the false statements that will be made to your prejudice.

S. P. Heintzelman, Brig.-Gen.

Dennison to McClellan.

Have just left the President. He is very much gratified with your letter, and says my construction of the order as I gave it to you is exactly correct. You command the Army of the Potomac wherever it may go. Everything is right. Move quick as possible.

McClellan to Marcy.

Fairfax Court-House, March 13, 1.30 P. M.
Gen. Marcy:
Direct the barges at Perryville and Annapolis containing wagons to be ready to move at one hour's notice. Have the teams loaded up at the same place at once.

Same to same.

Fairfax Court-House, March 13.
Gen. Marcy:
Prepare to embark Hunt's reserve artillery, together with all the reserve ammunition belonging to it. When will the transportation be ready?


McClellan to Tucker.

Fairfax Court-House, March 13, 10.30 P. M.
Hon. John Tucker, Assist. Sec. of War
. . . What transports are certainly on hand at Alexandria and Washington for troops, horses, and guns, and how many of each kind? I cannot make my arrangements for details of movement until I know exactly what is on hand. It is absolutely necessary that I should be kept constantly informed. I wish to move so that the men can move directly on board ship.

G. B. McClellan, Maj.-Gen.

McClellan to Van Vliet.

Fairfax Court-House, March 13, 10.50 P. M.
Gen. Van Vliet:
Arrange to send to Fort Monroe at once the wagons and horses at Perryville and Annapolis. Send to same destination rations as promptly as practicable for my 140,000 men and forage for my 15,000 animals. See Shiras about the rations. A quartermaster should be sent to Fort Monroe to receive these stores and keep them separate. They should all be landed at once. Please inform me to-night what transports are on hand, and keep me informed as fast as they arrive. I will make it Col. Astor's business to keep the run of it, so that I may be constantly posted.

McClellan to McDowell.

Fairfax Court-House, March 13, 11.30 P. M.
Maj.-Gen. McDowell, Washington:
Please make your arrangements to go to Fort Monroe very soon to receive troops, stores, etc. Try to complete your staff arrangements at once. I shall, of course, wish to see you before you go. I am perfectly willing that you should have Ingalls and Beckwith, merely remembering the special duty Ingalls is doing. See Heintzelman about Richardson. He will explain to the President.

McClellan to Stanton.

headquarters, Army of the Potomac, March 16, 1862.
Hon. E. M. Stanton, Sec. of War:
Sir: In order to carry out the proposed object of this army [252] it has now become necessary that its commander should have the entire control of affairs around Fortress Monroe. I would respectfully suggest that the simplest method of effecting this would be to merge the Department of Virginia with that of the Potomac, the name of which might properly be changed to that of the Department of the Chesapeake. In carrying this into effect I would respectfully suggest the present commander of the Department of Virginia be assigned to some other command.

Gen. Mansfield can take temporary charge of Fortress Monroe and its dependencies until the army arrive there.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

McClellan to Heintzelman.

Your telegram of yesterday morning received only last night. I hope the movement on Big Bethel was well considered in view of my wish not to prematurely develop our plan to the enemy. If the destruction of their batteries, and your subsequent return, confirms the idea that we are after Norfolk, ail is well, except the mere fact of falling back. If this reaches you in time it would be well to hold the position of Big Bethel, if its occupation by the enemy can give us any trouble. You, on the ground, can best judge of this.

G. B. McClellan, Maj.-Gen. Commanding.

McClellan to Blenker.

headquarters, Army of Potomac, steamer Commodore, March 29, 1862.
Gen. L. Blenker, Warrenton Junction:
The commanding general desires that you will hold your division in readiness to move at short notice to Alexandria for embarkation. It is his design to have your command join the active army the moment it can be spared from the service upon which it is now employed. He is anxious to afford your division an opportunity to meet the enemy, feeling well assured that it will prove itself conspicuous for valor on the battle-field and fully realize the high anticipations he had formed with respect to your command.

S. Williams, A. A. G.

1 The word resembles Wynton.

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