III. the army before Washington. July, 1861-march, 1862.
I. Organization of the Army of the Potomac.When the army that so lately had gone forth with such high hopes returned from Manassas shattered and discomfited to the banks of the Potomac, wise men saw there was that had suffered worse defeat than the army—it was the system under which Bull Run had been fought and lost. The lesson was a severe one; but if it was needed to demonstrate the legitimate result of the crude experimentalism under which the war had been conducted,—when campaigns were planned by ignorant politicians, and battles, precipitated by the pressure of sanguine journalists, were fought by raw three months levies,—the price paid was perhaps not too high. The Bull Run experiment taught the country it was a real war it had undertaken, and that success could only be hoped for by a strict conformity to military principles. The spirit in which the country rose to meet the emergency showed that it had benefited by the experience; and if before Bull Run the public mind had been in a mood to require just such a stern lesson for reproof and correction and instruction, it soon appeared that there was in it a temper to rise above the worst lapses and failures. For then was seen that which again and again throughout the war has been seen—a spectacle  marvellous and majestic, when the nation, stirred to its depths, uprose to meet the crisis that was upon it. Something of the kind had been seen at the uprising that followed the assault on Fort Sumter. But that was a manifestation less deep and earnest than the swift, stern, almost savage vigor with which the men of the North, wounded in the instinct of self-love as well as in the sentiment of patriotism, arose to assert their manhood, impugned by the humiliations of Bull Run. The crisis was one fitted to test the mettle of the nation; for had it then shown the least supineness or hesitation, its doom had been sealed. In a fortnight the terms of service of the seventy-five thousand volunteers would have expired; and the Southern army, flushed with victory and doubled in material strength, would have found the capital of the United States an easy prey. The nation sprang spontaneously to arms. With incredible rapidity new battalions were formed and forwarded to Washington; and by the time the term of service of the provisional troops had expired, their number had been more than replaced by fresh levies enlisted for three years or the war. What the country could give—men, material, money—that it gave lavishly, far outrunning the calls of the Government; but what it could not give was precisely what was most urgently needed to vitalize these sinews of war,—to wit, adequate leadership, and that soul of armies, the mind of a great commander. For this the nation, keenly alive to its need, could only breathe passionate aspirations. General McDowell vacated the command of the army without forfeiting the respect of his countrymen; for, while he had lost a battle, there was an instinctive consciousness that he had been the victim of circumstances rather than of any miscarriage of his own. And now there could be no doubt regarding his successor; for the general and consenting voice of the North pointed to the young general who had just concluded his campaign in the mountains of West Virginia as the desired leader of the army. General McClellan, accordingly, was summoned to Washington the day after Bull Run,  and placed in command of the disorganized forces that had returned from that untoward campaign, and of the rapidly arriving regiments which the ‘populous North’ was pouring down from all directions to Washington. Out of these elements, an army was, first of all, to be fashioned. General McClellan brought to his high trust proofs of talent which, though not sufficient to show him a proper captain of a great army, were yet enough to inspire the best hopes of him. He had served with distinction in Mexico, had studied war in Europe, was in the flower of his youth, and, above all, had just finished a campaign that, by its success amidst elsewhere general failure, seemed to furnish at once the prestige and prophecy of victory. The young chieftain threw himself with the utmost ardor and energy into the work of moulding into form an army adequate for the nation's needs. It was a colossal task; for it was necessary not merely to build up an army, but to make the model on which the army should be built. The military traditions of the United States, confined to the single campaign in Mexico, afforded no groundwork for the organization of such a military establishment as was now demanded for the portentous task before the country. The regular army kept on foot previous to the war was limited by law to under twenty thousand men. But its whole internal organism had been disrupted by secession, and it did not even form a cadre on which it was possible to build. The force around Washington, of which General McClellan assumed command on the 27th of July, numbered about fifty thousand infantry, less than a thousand cavalry, six hundred and fifty artillerymen, with nine imperfect field-batteries of thirty pieces. It still retained the provisional brigadeorgani-zation given it by McDowell; but the utter collapse that followed Bull Run had made it rather a mob than an army. Desertion had become alarmingly numerous, and the streets of Washington were crowded with straggling officers and men absent from their stations without authority, and indicating by their behavior an utter want of discipline and organization.1 To correct this absence a stringent system of military police was at once adopted, and this measure was followed by an immediate improvement in the morale of the troops. The root of the evil, however, lay deeper—lay in the really vicious system governing the primary organization of regiments and the appointment of their officers.2 Though General McClellan was unable to strike at this, he endeavored, as far as might be, to remedy its results; and Congress having passed a bill authorizing the President to dispense with the services of inefficient officers, the Army of the Potomac was soon weeded of several hundred worthless wearers of shoulder-straps.3 The problem of the best organization to be given a newly formed army, is one that to this day has received no final solution; and whatever principle be adopted, the original organization will be apt to require modification very soon after entering upon a campaign. The divisions, composed of two or more brigades, is, however, a permanent unit: and General McClellan, after the regiments had been  organized into brigades of four regiments each, and the brigades had been somewhat disciplined and instructed, formed divisions of three brigades each.4 But, in armies of above sixty thousand men, it has been common, since the time of Napoleon, to create from the assemblage of two or more divisions the higher unit of the corps d'armee. As a theoretical principle of organization, General McClellan was in favor of the formation of corps; but he wished to defer its practical application until his division commanders should, by actual experience in the field, acquire the requisite training to fit them for commands so important, and until he should have learned who of his divisional officers merited this high trust.5 There was much to justify this course, for there are few men able to command a body of thirty thousand men;6 and it is worthy of note that it was not till the Army of Northern Virginia had seen eighteen months of service that those at the head of military affairs in Richmond organized corps.7 This hesitation, however, proved unfortunate for McClellan himself; for, several months afterwards, and just as he was about moving to the Peninsula, the President divided the Army of the Potomac into four corps, and assigned to their command men whom General McClellan would not have chosen; whereas, had he created corps at first, he might have made his own selection.8 It next became necessary to create adequate artillery and engineer establishments, to organize the cavalry arm, and to  provide for the administrative service of the quartermaster, ordnance, commissary, and medical departments. The task of forming an artillery establishment was facilitated by the fact that the country possessed in the regular service a body of accomplished and energetic artillery officers.9 As basis of organization it was decided to form field-batteries of six guns (never less than four guns, and the guns of each battery to be of uniform calibre);10 and these were assigned to divisions, not to brigades, in the proportion of four batteries to each division; one of which was to be a battery of Regulars, and the captain of the Regular battery was in each case appointed commandant of the artillery of the division. In addition, it was determined to create an artillery reserve of a hundred guns and a siege-train of fifty pieces. This work was pushed forward with so much energy, that whereas, when General McClellan took command of the army, the entire artillery establishment consisted of nine imperfectly equipped batteries of thirty guns, before it took the field this service had reached the colossal proportions of ninety-two batteries of five hundred and twenty guns, served by twelve thousand five hundred men, and in full readiness for active field-duty.11 With equal energy the formation of the engineer establishment was entered upon; and this included not only the training of engineer companies and the Corps of Topographical Engineers, but the organization of engineer and bridge-trains and equipage adequate for an army of first-class proportions. At the same time, the entire system of the defences of Washington, both for the northern and southern side of the Potomac,  was planned and carried into execution.12 Washington, in fact, assumed the aspect of a fortified capital, with a system of defences so formidable that the enemy at no time throughout the war attempted seriously to assail that city.13 Such is but a faint setting forth of the manifold activities evoked and directed towards the creation of the Army of the Potomac by its new commander. It was a season of faithful, fruitful work, amid which that army grew into shape and substance. And with such surprising energy was the work of organization pushed forward, that whereas General McClellan in July came into command of a collection of raw, dispirited, and disorganized regiments, without commissariat or quartermaster departments, and unfitted either to march or fight, he had around him at the end of three months a hundred thousand men, trained and disciplined, organized and equipped, animated by the highest spirit, and deserving the fond name of the Grand Army of the Potomac. And certainly, if there are portions of McClellan's subsequent military career that are open to animadversion, he yet challenges from all impartial minds the credit due this mighty performance.14 Looking at the work he then initiated, in the only light in which we can rightly appreciate it—as it stands related to  what went before, and what came after it—it is manifest that what gives it significance is that it represents science displacing sciolism, the untutored enthusiasm of a nation unused to war, taught by a bitter experience to yield itself to the cunning hand of discipline—that power which Carnot calls ‘the glory of the soldier and the strength of armies.’15 If the Army of the Potomac afterwards performed deeds worthy to live in history, it is in no small degree due to the fact that the groundwork of victory was laid deep and broad in that early period of stern tutelage, when it learnt the apprenticeship of war. If other generals, the successors of McClellan, were able to achieve more decisive results than he, it was, again, in no small degree, because they had the perfect instrument he had fashioned to work withal.16
II. plans of campaigns.Three months of varied and fruitful activity thus passed, and the close of autumn found around Washington an army both formidable in numbers and respectable in efficiency. There then arose the problem of putting it in motion; and this problem involved two questions—when to strike, and where? The latter was a question that concerned the general-in-chief; but the former was one that profoundly touched the people, who, as the sustainers of the war, ‘thronged in and made their voice heard, and became partakers of the counsels of state.’17 During that period in which the army was a—fashioning, the public remained silent. And there was in this silence something almost pathetic; for, knowing that an undue urgency for action, expressed through the public prints, had precipitated the disastrous campaign that ended in Bull Run, men sought to make amends by a sedulous refraining from the like again. General McClellan was left free to work his will; and, being strong in the trust of the country, he was ‘master of the situation:’ no monarch could be more so. Yet it was manifest that this confidence was in pledge of early and energetic action on the part of the commander; for the country had too much at stake, and the passions and interests of men were too closely bound up with a speedy suppression of the insurrection, to brook a Fabian policy. General McClellan had, in a public speech at the time he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, promised that the war should be ‘short, sharp, and decisive.’ This  was the very key-note on which all the motions of public sentiment turned. It was, therefore, in the highest degree important for him to seize the first opportunity to justify, by some palpable proof, that confidence which the country had spontaneously extended to him. There was too little moderation, too little stability in the public judgment, to make it possible that this condition of things should long continue. The faith that had been freely bestowed would presently disappear, nor ever be overtook unless deeds should go with it. A commander who, under a popular government, is intrusted with the conduct of a war, has to shape his acts not alone according to abstract military dictates, but must take into account considerations of a political and moral order as well. For the wishes, impulses, prejudices, ignorances even of his countrymen, enter as really into the problem with which he has to deal as the character of his enemy or the lines of military operation. A captain who is also king, may act in quite different wise from a captain responsible to a Cabinet or Congress. What a Caesar or a Napoleon might do, could not be imitated by a Wellington or a Eugene; and the history of the latter illustrious commander, and his equally illustrious colleague—Marlborough—shows, strikingly, how that even the victor of Blenheim and Ramilies had to conform the inspirations of his military genius to the dull wits of a Dutch States-General. McClellan, who had as yet done nothing to prove himself either a Wellington or a Eugene, should have made the lightest possible draft on the indulgence of the people. There is little or no doubt that, thus far, General McClellan had formed no other theory regarding the employment of the Army of the Potomac, than that which was common throughout the country; which, compendiously stated, was to make a direct attack on the enemy in front of Washington, and to make this attack as soon as possible.18  All his plans at this period contemplated a general advance from Washington as early as the month of November; and, looking back to the middle of October, it appears from General McClellan's own statement that he had at that time upwards of one hundred and fifty thousand men under his command, out of which, after deducting the forces to be employed in garrisoning Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis, and those assigned for guarding the line of the Potomac, he was able to place in the field a column for active operations of above seventy-five thousand men.19 But about the time he had designed putting the army in motion, General McClellan found himself, by his appointment as general-in-chief, charged not only with the direction of the Army of the Potomac but of all the other armies in the field. He then began to change his views regarding the line and method of operating against the enemy in Virginia; and this led him to the adoption of a policy that caused a delay of all active operations, lasting throughout the whole winter and continuing till March, 1862, when the movement to the Peninsula was begun.20 This inactivity, by  whatever military considerations it may have been justified to General McClellan's own mind, was certainly very unfortunate; and, as it had afterwards an important bearing on that commander's relations to the Administration, and has since given rise to much antagonism of opinion, it will be proper to consider briefly both the reasons which are thought to justify and those which are thought to condemn it. The points of defence of the inactivity of the Army of the Potomac during the winter of 1861-2 may all be included in this summary: the yet imperfect organization, equipment,  and discipline of the army; the inadequacy of its force; the difficulty of winter campaigning in Virginia; and the necessity of a simultaneous movement throughout the entire theatre of war. Some of these points are well taken, while others will not stand a critical examination. It is true that the army, though composed of material of uncommon excellence, was necessarily green and had the imperfections incident to improvised armaments; and, no doubt, it was in much better condition to move in April, 1862, than it could have been in November or December, 1861. But, assuredly, General McClellan over-estimates the then condition of his opponent's army, when, in his report, he speaks of its superior discipline, drill, and equipment. There is now overwhelming evidence to show that, previously at least to the organization of the permanent Confederate Army in April, 1862, nothing could exceed the laxity of discipline, demoralization of temper, and inferiority in arms, equipment, and means of transport that marked the Southern force. It is true, also, that General McClellan was never able to obtain quite the colossal force he had called for—a movable column of one hundred and fifty thousand men, together with garrisons for Washington, Baltimore, etc., and corps of observation for the line of the Potomac, making the enormous aggregate of two hundred and forty thousand men. But it should be considered that this demand was based on the theory set forth by General McClellan himself, that the enemy had, in October, ‘a force on the Potomac not less than one hundred and fifty thousand strong, well drilled and equipped;’ whereas it is certain that General Johnston's entire force barely exceeded one-third that number.21  It is also true that military operations in a Virginia winter and on a Virginia soil are attended with great difficulties; and no military student will, after the experience of the war, say that it would have been practicable for General McClellan at that season to undertake a grand operation, such as a campaign against Richmond. But it was quite possible to have made a special operation of the nature of a movement against Johnston at Manassas. Had Johnston stood, a battle with good prospect of success might have been delivered. But had he, as there was great likelihood he would do, and as it is now certain he would have done, fallen back from Manassas to the line of the Rapidan, his compulsory retirement would have been esteemed a positive victory to the Union arms.22 And, even had it been accounted impracticable to undertake a movement against Manassas, there were still many incidental  operations23 that were perfectly feasible, and which, while valuable in themselves, would have had the effect to satisfy the country and consolidate the confidence of the people and the Administration in General McClellan. And it is precisely in this regard that General McClellan showed himself deficient in certain qualities of mind indispensable for one who has to deal with the larger questions of war. If, as a soldier, he was right in wishing to postpone grand military operations till spring, when the times and seasons and circumstances should all favor; when his army, strengthened in numbers and tempered by discipline, would be fit for the field; when the full preparation of the other armies would enable him to enter on large combinations, he certainly showed a lack of that kind of political savoir faire and knowledge of human nature necessary to a great commander, in remaining perfectly inactive. It was for him to consider whether the increase in numbers and improvement in discipline likely to accrue to his army in the mean time would at all compensate for that loss of confidence, that popular impatience, that political obstruction, which were certain to arise, and which actually did arise. For so soon as the period of reorganization had passed, the public and the Administration became naturally anxious to see the imposing army of a hundred and fifty thousand men that had grown up on the banks of the Potomac turned to some account. And this anxiety presently grew into an impatience, which at length broke out in loud clamor that at once embarrassed the Government and marred the harmonious relations between it and the commander of the army. It happened, too, that during this period there occurred a series of untoward events that made a deep impression on the people of the North, and tended both to grieve patriotic men and stir up a bitter opposition to the commander held responsible for them. The most important of these were the  blockade of the Potomac and the disaster at Ball's Bluff, of which events I must give a brief account. Shortly after the battle of Bull Run, the Confederates advanced their outposts from Centreville and Fairfax Courthouse forward as far as Munson's Hill, and almost to the banks of the Potomac,—a move that was of no military value, but which gave them the prestige of flaunting their flag within view of the capitol of the nation. They then proceeded to erect batteries at different points on the Virginia side of the Potomac, with the view of obstructing the navigation of the river. So successfully was this work performed, that early in October the flag-officer of the Potomac flotilla officially reported the water highway by which a large part of the supplies for the army around Washington was brought forward from the North to be effectually closed.24 This event, the actual blockade of the capital, produced throughout the country a deep feeling of mortification and humiliation, and called forth bitter complaints against the Government. A proposition was made to destroy these batteries by an assaulting force sent from the Maryland side of the river; but the enterprise was abandoned in consequence of an adverse report from General Barnard, chief-engineer.25 Meanwhile, the commander was unwilling to undertake the destruction of the batteries by the only method that promised success—to wit, a movement by the right bank of the Potomac,—for the reason that it would bring on a general engagement. The affair of Ball's Bluff was of a kind to affect still more powerfully the popular imagination; for, while in itself a lamentable disaster, it seemed to reveal a strange looseness and want of responsibility in the conduct of military affairs. It appears that on the 19th of October, General McCall was ordered to make, with his division, a movement on Drainesville, for the purpose of covering reconnoissances in all directions to be made the following day. These reconnoissances  were successfully accomplished on the 20th; and General Mc-Clellan, anticipating that this demonstration would have the effect of inducing the enemy to abandon Leesburg, directed General Stone, whose division of observation was guarding the left bank of the Potomac above Washington, with headquarters at Poolesville, to ‘keep a good lookout upon Leesburg,’ and suggested ‘a slight demonstration’ as likely to have the effect of moving the enemy at that point. Accordingly, on the afternoon of the 20th, Gorman's brigade was sent to Edward's Ferry to make a display of force, and the Fifteenth Massachusetts regiment, under Colonel Devens, was sent to Harrison's Island, from which place a small scouting party was about dark sent across by Ball's Bluff, to the Virginia side, and ordered to push out towards Leesburg and report the position of the enemy. The reconnoitring party having returned, bringing report of a small encampment of the enemy within a mile of Leesburg, Colonel Devens was ordered by General Stone to cross five companies of his regiment to the Virginia shore, and advancing under cover of the night to the enemy's camp, to destroy it at daybreak, and, after making observation of the country, to return. The report touching the enemy's encampment proved to be a mistake; but Colonel Devens found a wood in which he concealed his men, and proceeded to examine the space between that and Leesburg. About eight o'clock, however, finding his position discovered, he retired to the Bluff, but presently returned towards Leesburg, and occupied the ground till towards one o'clock; when on being attacked by a regiment of the enemy, he again fell back to a field in front of the bluff, where the main action afterwards took place, and where was posted a small supporting force under Colonel Lee. Meantime, in the morning, General Stone had assigned to Colonel Baker the command of the right wing at Ball's Bluff, giving him a discretionary order either to retire the small force on the Virginia side, or to re-enforce it from his own brigade. Colonel Baker determined on the latter course, and succeeded in ferrying over about a thousand men of his command. These  he united to the commands of Colonel Devens, who had meanwhile retired to the bluff, and of Colonel Lee; and with this force of about one thousand eight hundred men formed line of battle in the field at the top of the bluff, where, about half-past 2 in the afternoon, he began to receive the attack of the enemy. The Southern force was composed of four regiments, under command of Colonel Evans, who with his brigade had been holding post at Leesburg. Finding that the small Union force, which had been easily driven back from its advance towards Leesburg, was constantly being re-enforced by the fresh troops which Baker was bringing across the river, Evans ordered a general attack. The action continued for two hours; the Confederates assaulting impetuously, and the Union force stoutly resisting, though losing ground. In the midst of the contest the commanding officer, Colonel Baker, was killed; and shortly afterwards the line, receiving a severe fire on the left flank, retreated in disorder down the bluff towards the river. Here, towards dusk, an appalling scene ensued. The troops swarmed down the steep bluff, pursued by the yelling Southerners, who shot and bayoneted them as they ran. The means of transportation had been very inadequate; the one flat-boat was soon swamped, the lifeboat drifted down the stream, and the couple of skiffs which made up the total were soon lost. Many were shot while in the water; many were drowned; many surrendered; others succeeded in swimming to the island. Not half of those who went over returned. This lamentable affair discouraged the people of the North as much as it elated the Southerners.26 Its entire history affords a striking exemplification of the looseness of military conduct and relations at that time. In venturing on the undertaking, General Stone proceeded on the supposition that General McCall, who, as General McClellan informed him,  had occupied Drainesville on the 20th, and was to ‘send out reconnoissances in all directions,’ still remained there; yet McCall was withdrawn the following morning, when Stone sent the force across the river, without the latter's being informed of the fact. Again, though General McClellan did not order the expedition across the river, yet on being informed of the crossing during the day, he congratulated General Stone, thereby inferentially approving it.27 Stone's plan of operations lacked definite purpose: it was neither a feint nor a serious attack. He seems to have left Colonel Baker in misunderstanding as to the co-operation of the force at Edward's Ferry; and the conduct of Colonel Baker,—a high-spirited and patriotic man, who had quitted his seat in the United States Senate to take the field,—was without military skill or discretion. These events could not fail to have a deeply depressing effect on the public mind. It is vain to argue that the country should have subordinated its wishes to abstract military necessities. Nor is it strange, as month after month passed by in inaction, with the capital of the nation under blockade, the foreign relations of the United States menacing war, Secession gaining prestige day by day, while an army of portentous strength lay as under a spell, that the deepest solicitude should have overcome the hearts of men; that the timid should have begun to despair, and the proudest to hang their heads with shame. These things came back upon the Administration in a pressure daily growing more and more oppressive; and when, towards the close of that gloomy year, the commander of the Army of the Potomac being then sick, President Lincoln called in several of the general officers to counsel with him, he declared, in his sad, homely way, that “if something could not soon be done, the bottom would be out of the whole, affair.” 28 This exposition of the condition of the public mind is due  here; because, if we shall not be able to hold the Administration blameless in its dealings with General McClellan, a just verdict will at the same time not omit to estimate how severe a demand that officer—unwisely, as we must think—made on the country and the Government. I now pass to the exposition of the cause that produced this long and unfortunate inaction, and which will be found in the already noted change of the plan of operations. There is little doubt that, at the period to which this recital has extended—namely, the close of the year 1861—General Mc-Clellan had fully resolved upon acting against the enemy by a flank movement by water instead of assailing him by direct attack; and as the adoption of the former course had a most important bearing on the relations between the Executive and the general-in-chief, I shall enter with some detail into the origin and development of that plan of campaign that removed the Army of the Potomac from the front of Washington to the Peninsula. The first formal discussion of a movement to the Lower Chesapeake seems to have taken place at a series of warcoun-cils held at Washington early in January, 1862. It appears that at this time President Lincoln, troubled in spirit at the condition of public affairs, and further distressed at the sickness of General McClellan, summoned the attendance of two division commanders, to counsel with himself and the members of the cabinet as to the propriety of commencing active operations with the Army of the Potomac. These officers were Generals McDowell and Franklin. The former officer committed to writing the substance of what passed at these interviews, and the following is a transcript of his manuscript minutes:
It need hardly be said that the plan of campaign that General McClellan had in his mind, and which he was unwilling to disclose in presence of his subordinates and an unmilitary council, was the project of attacking Richmond by the lower Chesapeake. A few days afterwards he fully developed this plan in a letter to the President, and the result was that the President disapproved it and by an order issued on the 31st of January, substituted one of his own.30 This order was as follows:
The operation here indicated is that of a flanking movement on the enemy's position at Manassas. Now, it is due to add that in thus disapproving the plan of operations of General McClellan and substituting one of his own, there is conclusive evidence to show that the President was moved less by any consideration of the relative strategic merits of the two plans of campaign, than by the question of time in regard to the commencement of active operations. With him this was the controlling circumstance; for the anxiety on the part of the Administration for an immediate movement of the Army of the Potomac had become what General McClellan calls ‘excessive;’31 and four days before the order of the 31st January, dictating a movement of the Army of the Potomac against Manassas, the President had decreed that ‘a general movement of the land and naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces should be made on the 22d day of February.’32 It is obvious, therefore, that the  President, having categorically ordered a general movement of all the armies to be made on the 22d of February, was forced to the next step of prescribing for the operations of the Army of the Potomac a plan of campaign which could be undertaken at the time fixed. It was impossible that McClellan's project could be initiated at the appointed period; for not only was it necessary to put in execution the difficult task of moving the army and all its material to the designated point on the Lower Chesapeake, but it was necessary first of all to provide the vast amount of water transportation needful for so colossal an enterprise. Hence the order for a direct movement on Manassas. Upon the receipt of this order, General McClellan lost no time in seeing the President and requesting to know whether this order was to be regarded as final, and whether he could be permitted to submit in writing his objection to the plan of the Executive and his reasons for preferring his own. Permission was accorded, and on the 3d of February the general-in-chief submitted, in a paper to the Secretary of War, an elaborate discussion of the two plans of campaign.33 Whether from the force of reasoning of the paper, or from other and extrinsic considerations,34 the result was that the President rescinded his order for the movement on Manassas; and on the 27th of February the War Department instructed its agents to procure at once the  necessary steamers and sailing-craft to transport the Army of the Potomac to its new field of operations. Even after this step had been taken, however, the President, convinced against his will, retained his aversion to the proposed movement. He repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction at the project of removing the army from Washington, and preferred that an operation should be made for opening the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad by a movement across the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, and another for the destruction of the enemy's batteries on the Potomac. General McClellan seems to have been able to overcome these objections by a recital of the same considerations he had previously presented; but, on the 8th of March, the President returned with renewed vigor to his old position, and urged him to submit his project of campaign to a council of his division commanders. The meeting was accordingly held the same day. The commanding general laid before his officers the inquiry, whether it were advisable to shift the base of operations. The plan of a change of base to the lower Chesapeake was approved by eight out of the twelve generals present. Impressed by the emphasis of the approval which General McClellan's plan received in the adhesion thereto of two to one of the chief officers of the army, the President, nevertheless, saw fit to bind the execution of the plan, which he could now do no less than approve, by several embarrassing restrictions, contained in two important war-orders issued on the 8th of March. The first of these orders directed the organization of the Army of the Potomac into four corps, and nominated four generals to their command. These officers were not of General McClellan's selection, while their appointment excluded certain other officers upon whom he had fixed for corps commanders.35 The second of these orders  prescribed the conditions upon which a change of base would be allowed, and is in the following terms:
It is easy to see what must have been the result of this fatal indecision, vacillation, and want of harmony between the Administration and the chief of the army; but it happened that this clash of opinion was suddenly interrupted by an event that made a complete change in the military situation. This event was no less than the sudden evacuation of Manassas  by the Confederate Army, and its retirement behind the line of the Rappahannock. General Johnston, who, a considerable time previously, had formed the design of retiring nearer his base, had for three weeks been preparing the evacuation by the quiet removal of the army-stores and war-material; and when he finally withdrew his army from Manassas, on the 8th of March, so skilfully was the enterprise managed, that the first intimation thereof gained by the Union forces was from the smoke of the burning huts, fired by the Confederates on their retirement! With a view rather of giving the troops some experience on the march and bivouac than for the purpose of pursuit, General McClellan ordered a forward movement of the army towards Centreville the next day, and immediately dispatched two regiments of cavalry under Colonel Averill to Manassas. A few days afterwards, a large body of cavalry, with some infantry, under command of General Stoneman, was sent along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to determine the position of the enemy, and, if possible, force his rear across the Rappahannock; but the roads were in such condition that, finding it impossible to subsist his men, Stoneman was forced to return after reaching Cedar Run. It was found that the enemy had destroyed all the bridges. This expedition was followed by a strong reconnoissance of Howard's division of Sumner's corps to the Rappahannock, and, under cover of this mask, the main body of the Union army was moved back to the vicinity of Alexandria. Johnston, who had retired behind the Rappahannock, finding on survey that the Rapidan afforded a better line, moved his army thither, and positioned it on that river.36 The Confederate abandonment of Manassas necessitated several changes in the projected campaign. In his proposed scheme of transferring his army to the lower Chesapeake, General McClellan's favorite point for the new base of operations had been Urbana on the Rappahannock. But this enterprise,  which had for its object to cut off the retreat of the Confederates on Richmond, of course became impossible after they had retired behind the Rappahannock. There now remained the move to the Peninsula,—a move which he had considered in his general plan, but which he regarded as less brilliant and promising less decisive results. This project was submitted to a council of the corps commanders while at Fairfax Courthouse, on the 13th of March, and by them it was unanimously approved, provided the Merrimac (which a few days before had made its destructive raid on the vessels in Hampton Roads, and was now at Norfolk) could be neutralized; that means of transport for the army were at hand; that a naval force could be obtained to aid in silencing the enemy's batteries on the York River; and that sufficient force should be left to cover Washington, to give an entire feeling of security. The proceedings of this council were submitted to the President, by whom they were approved, upon condition that Washington should be made entirely safe, and Manassas Junction occupied in sufficient force to prevent its repossession by the enemy. General McClellan immediately began his preparations in accordance with these instructions. The duty of covering the line of the Potomac and Washington he assigned to General Banks, commanding the Fifth Corps, and at this time holding the Shenandoah Valley. General Banks was ordered to post the bulk of his command, well intrenched, at Manassas; from thence to repair the Manassas Gap Railroad to Strasburg—to be held by a force intrenched,—thus reopening communication with the Shenandoah Valley: this general line to be held with cavalry well to the front.37 Just as General Banks was about to move his corps to Manassas, however, there occurred a series of events that compelled him to retain the greater part of his force in the Shenandoah Valley. At the time of the evacuation of Manassas by the enemy, Stonewall Jackson, with his division of about eight  thousand men, was posted at Winchester—the Union troops occupying Charlestown; but on the advance of General Banks' force, on the 12th of March, he retreated; and, pursued by the division of Shields', retired twenty miles south of Strasburg. Under cover of this advance, the first division of Banks' corps was, on the 20th, put en route for Manassas, and Shields fell back to Winchester. Jackson, informed probably of the withdrawal of the troops from the Valley, but exaggerating its extent, returned upon his steps, and, on the afternoon of the 23d, attacked Shields near Winchester. Jackson met a severe repulse, after which he made his way southward. This affair caused General Banks to return himself, as also to recall the division then on the march for Manassas; and after this, events so shaped themselves, that Banks' command was retained in the Shenandoah Valley, and General Wadsworth was placed in command of the forces for the protection of the national capital. To provide for the security of Washington was General McClellan's next care, and for this purpose he left behind a force of above seventy thousand men, with one hundred and nine pieces of light artillery. These troops were not, it is true, all concentrated at Washington, but they were all available for its defence.38 Meantime, the task of collecting water transportation, and embarking the troops for the proposed expedition, was being pushed forward with the utmost energy. Unhappily, however, while every thing seemed to be under way, certain occurrences took place that marred the auspicious circumstances that should have attended the expedition.  Upon the evacuation of Manassas, General McClellan, who had, since the retirement of Lieutenant-General Scott in the preceding November, exercised the functions of generalin-chief, was relieved from the control of the armies in the field, and relegated to the command of the Army of the Potomac. At the same time, the troops in Western Virginia were placed under General Fremont, who was assigned to what was called the ‘Mountain Department.’ Now, a few days before he sailed for Fortress Monroe, General McClellan had been informed by the President that a strong ‘pressure’ had been brought to bear at Washington to procure the detachment of Blenker's division of ten thousand men from the Army of the Potomac, in order that it might be added to the force under General Fremont. The President, apparently fully alive to the impolicy of depriving him of so considerable a body of men, on whom he had relied in forming his plan of campaign, assured General McClellan that he had decided to allow the division to remain; nevertheless, the very day before that officer left Alexandria, he received a note from the President, stating that he had been constrained, by the severity of the pressure, to order the division of Blenker to Fremont.39 It will, moreover, presently appear, that scarcely had the army landed on the Peninsula, when, notwithstanding the President's emphatic assurances that no more troops should be detached from McClellan's command, the whole of McDowell's corps, whose arrival he was impatiently awaiting, for the purpose of making with it a turning movement on Yorktown, was taken from him, and General McDowell with his troops assigned to the new department of the Rappahannock. The reason assigned for this measure was, that General McClellan had not left behind a sufficient force for the protection of the capital. The result of this act will presently appear. It is impossible to review the series of events here recorded  without a deep sense of pain and humiliation. A sufficient time has since elapsed to permit those who have at heart rather the vindication of historic truth than the partisan support of either side, to see that grave faults were committed both by the Administration and by General McClellan. While we are bound to believe that each was moved by the sincere desire to bring the war to a successful issue, each did much to frustrate the very object they had mutually at heart. On the part of the Administration, a definite plan of campaign should have been promptly adopted and vigorously executed. When McClellan presented his scheme of a change of base to the lower Chesapeake, the project should either have been frankly approved or frankly disapproved. The plan was meritorious, and promised brilliant and decisive results. But the President first disapproved it, on the ground that it would require too long a time to be put into execution. He then approved it; but for almost a month withheld the order to provide water transportation to carry the plan into effect. Having at length taken this step, and while the costly preparations were, by his own order, in the full course of execution, he renewed all his old objections to removing the army from the front of Washington, and required that the question should be submitted to a council of McClellan's generals. These officers having approved the project, the Executive once more assented; but tied up his approval with the foolish restriction that not more than one-half the army should be taken away, until the enemy's batteries were destroyed,—an enterprise which would have involved a movement of the whole army, and which was, besides, certain to be the bloodless fruit of the execution of the general plan. Again, when the evacuation of Manassas had so far necessitated a change of plan, that it was determined to seek a new base of operations at Fortress Monroe, and the council of corps commanders, to whom the President had referred the  decision of the question, had approved it on certain conditions as to the safety of Washington, etc., the President further embarrassed the operation by insisting on the presence of a large force at Manassas,—a measure not dictated by any sound military consideration. From a still weaker motion, he ordered the detachment of Blenker's division from the command of McClellan, and transferred it to General Fremont. And finally, moved by morbidly recurring fears for the security of the capital, no sooner had McClellan left for his new field of operations, than the President further stripped him of the powerful corps of McDowell, to retain it in front of Washington. The secret of much of this conduct, were one disposed here to seek it, would doubtless be found in a ‘pressure’ of the same kind and coming from the same source as that the President urged to General McClellan in excuse for depriving him of Blenker's troops. There had already sprung up at Washington a group of men, cherishing a violent hostility to General McClellan on account of his so-called ‘conservative’ policy. Uninstructed in war, these men were yet influential, persistent, and had the ear of the President; but while it is easy to understand the ascendency which they gained over a character like that of Mr. Lincoln, the concession is unfortunate for his reputation as a statesman. General McClellan should either have been removed from command, or he should have been allowed to work out his own plans of campaign, receiving that ‘confidence and cordial support’ promised him by the President when he assumed command, and ‘without which,’ as Mr. Lincoln justly added, ‘he could not with so full efficiency serve the country.’ It is a jealous function that of military command, and, as the whole history of war teaches, can only be effectively exercised when accompanied with an entire freedom of action on the part of the commander, and cordial co-operation and support on the part of the Government. If there be any sure lesson taught by the military experience of nations, it is that when  extrinsic influences, whether from councils, or congresses, or war-offices, intrude into the direction of military affairs, all hope of success is gone. History has chosen to express its views of this kind of interference in the contumely with which it has covered the Austrian Aulic Council; but the Aulic Council was composed at least of military men. Of what was the American council composed? True, it was inevitable that, in a war such as that which fell upon the United States, considerations of a kind that may be called political should have a great part to play; and the determination of the policy of the war was certainly a question that came within the province of statesmanship, and which, when adopted in the councils of the Government, the commander in the field was bound to adhere to and carry out. But beyond this, and in the sphere of the actual conduct of the war, the general must be head and supreme. ‘In my judgment,’ says the greatest of theoretical writers on the art of war, discussing the part taken by the Aulic Council of Vienna in directing the operations of the Austrian armies,
On the other hand, it is to be admitted that General McClellan, too, committed grave faults. He had already put the patience of the public and the Administration to a severe strain by his six months inactivity; and in proposing to remove his army from the front of Washington, he made another and peculiarly heavy draft upon their confidence. In this he again exposed himself to the criticism already made respecting his deficiency in those statesmanlike qualities that enter into the composition of a great general. Granting that the lower Chesapeake was the true line of approach to Richmond, yet finding the project of a removal of the army from the front of Washington so peculiarly repugnant to the wishes and convictions of the President and his councillors as to have suggested grave doubts as to the possibility of his obtaining a cordial support in its execution, he should have considered with himself whether he could follow the wishes of his superiors by operating against the enemy at Manassas; and if not, he should have resigned. ‘A general,’ says Napoleon, in one of his fine rulings regarding what may be called the ethics of war, ‘is culpable who undertakes the execution of a plan which he considers faulty. It is his duty to represent his reasons, to insist upon a change of plan; in short, to give in his resignation rather than allow himself to be made the instrument of his army's ruin.’ But the case before General McClellan was in nowise of the nature contemplated in this dictum. For the scheme of an advance against Manassas cannot be called ‘faulty,’ or of a kind to hazard the ruin of the army. It was a question of a choice of plans. Different plans of campaign may be each correct, and yet differ in boldness and brilliancy; and the bolder and more brilliant plan may often have to give way to one more feasible or more opportune. The determination of this in any given case is a problem in the higher generalship. Had  General McClellan brought a juster estimate to the question both of what it was possible for him to do and what it was necessary for him to do, he might have avoided these painful entanglements, from the discussion of which I gladly escape to follow the steps of that master-stroke by which the army was lifted from Washington and planted on the Peninsula, and the checkered progress of the campaign on the new theatre of war.
“ the only duty which such a council can safely undertake is that of advising as to the adoption of a general plan of operations. Of course, I do not mean by this a plan which is to embrace the whole course of a campaign, tie down the generals to that course, and so inevitably lead to their being beaten. I mean a plan which shall determine the objects of a campaign; decide whether offensive or defensive operations shall be undertaken, and fix the amount of material means which may be relied upon in the first instance for the opening of the enterprise, and then for the possible reserves in case of invasion. It cannot be denied that all these things may be, and even should be, discussed in a council of government made up of generals and of ministers; but here the action of such a council should stop; for if it pretends to say to a commander-in-chief not only that he shall march on Vienna or Paris, but also in what way he is to manoeuvre to reach those points, the unfortunate commander-in-chief will certainly be beaten, and the whole responsibility of his reverses will rest upon those who, two hundred miles off from the enemy, pretend  to direct an army which it is difficult enough to handle when actually in the field.”Jomini: Precis de l'art de la Guerre, vol. II., p. 47.