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Chapter 12:

  • Farewell to the army
  • -- reception at Trenton -- visit to Boston in the winter of 1863 -- oration at West Point in June, 1864

The reasons for this summary and abrupt dismissal of General McClellan, strange to say, have never been distinctly and officially given to the people of the United States. The President, in his annual message to Congress, only twenty-six days later than the date of his order of removal, says nothing upon the subject.

The general-in-chief, in his Report, addressed to the Secretary of War, says,

From the 17th of September till the 26th of October, McClellan's main army remained on the north bank of the Potomac, in the vicinity of Sharpsburg and Harper's Ferry. The long inactivity of so large an army in the face of a defeated foe and during the most favorable season for rapid movements and a vigorous campaign, was a matter of great disappointment and regret. Your letter of the 27th and my reply on the 28th of October, in regard to the alleged causes of this unhappy delay, I herewith submit, marked Exhibit No. 5. In reply to the telegraphic order of the 6th of October, quoted in my letter of the 28th, above referred to, General McClellan disapproved of the plan of crossing the Potomac south of the Blue Ridge, and said that lie would cross at Harper's Ferry and advance upon Winchester. He, however, did not begin to cross till the 26th of October, and then at Berlin.

The passage occupied several days, and was [331] completed about the 3d of November. What caused him to change his views, or what his plan of campaign was, I am ignorant; for about this time he ceased to communicate with me in regard to his operations, sending his reports directly to the President.1 On the 5th instant I received [332] the written order of the President relieving General McClellan and placing General Burnside in command of the Army of the Potomac. This order was transmitted by a special messenger, who delivered it to General McClellan at Rectortown on the 7th.

Here it will be seen that no reason is assigned for what the general-in-chief chooses to call “relieving” General McClellan; but, from the whole evidence before him, the reader is left to infer that he was removed because he had disobeyed the orders of the President without cause or excuse. The orders in question, to cross the river and attack the enemy, were given on the 6th of October, the forward movement began on the 26th of the same month, and the removal of General McClellan was made on the 5th of November, when the army were thirty or forty miles on their march, in splendid condition and high spirits. [333] In other words, an officer is removed for disobeying orders not only one month after they were given, but eleven days after he had begun to obey them! The Administration must have great confidence in the credulity of the public if they suppose this will be received as the real cause why General McClellan was deprived of his command. Had this been done immediately after the 6th of October, or at least soon after, the pretext would have had some show of seeming.

The real reasons for which General McClellan was removed were political, and not military. They are to be found in the wide difference of views between his letter of July 7, 1862, written at Harrison's Landing, on the policy and conduct of the war, and the President's Proclamation of September 22. That letter incurred for General McClellan the unrelenting hostility of the political party which constrained the President to issue the Proclamation; and the same influences, or “pressure,” which procured the document in question, compelled the removal of General McClellan. And that a strong “pressure” was brought to bear upon the President is unquestionable; for on the 13th of September, in an interview with a deputation from Chicago, when urged to issue a proclamation of emancipation, he distinctly declined it, saying, among other things, “What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are now situated? I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull [334] against the comet. Would my word free the slaves, when I cannot even enforce the Constitution in the rebel States? Is there a single court or individual that would be influenced by it there? And what reason is there to think it would have any greater effect upon the slaves than the late law of Congress which I approved, and which offers protection and freedom to the slaves of rebel masters who come within our lines? Yet I cannot learn that the law has caused a single slave to come over to us.” It is hardly possible to suppose that in the short space of eleven days the mind of the President had undergone a process of natural conversion upon a point of such vital moment.

But General McClellan's political opinions, and his manly avowal of them, afford no justification for his removal from the command of the army. He had shown by word and deed that he would do his duty as a soldier, within his sphere, whatever political policy the Administration might adopt or whatever political aspects the war might assume. This was all the Administration had a right to ask. That he had the confidence and affection of his army is beyond question. His removal was due to a fact stated affirmatively — though put in the form of a question to General McDowell--by a member of the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, December 26, 1861,--that “there is a political element connected with this war which must not be overlooked.” There has indeed been such an “element” from the beginning in the conduct of this war; it never has, been [335] “overlooked,” but has always been prominent, and set in the front of the battle, and has been the fruitful source of mistakes and disasters to our cause. In the present instance it led to the dangerous experiment of changing commanders in front of an enemy; and the bitter experience of Fredericksburg was the direct result.

The first act of General McClellan on receiving the order relieving him of command was to draw up a farewell address to the army, as follows,--which was read to them at dress-parade on the 10th:--

Headquarters army of the Potomac, camp near Rectortown, November 7, 1862.
officers and soldiers of the army of the Potomac:--
An order of the President devolves upon Major-General Burnside the command of this army. In parting from you, I cannot express the love and gratitude I bear you. As an army you have grown up under my care. In you I have never found doubt or coldness. The battles you have fought under my command will proudly live in our nation's history. The glory you have achieved, our mutual perils and fatigues, the graves of our comrades fallen in battle and by disease, the broken forms of those whom wounds and sickness have disabled,--the strongest associations which can exist among men,--unite us still by an indissoluble tie. We shall ever be comrades in supporting the Constitution of our country and the nationality of its people.

George B. Mcclellan, Major-General, U. S. A.

On Saturday, November 8, General McClellan was busily occupied in making the arrangements [336] necessary for transferring his command to General Burnside. The two generals, between whom the personal relations were entirely friendly, were in consultation for several hours.

At nine o'clock on the evening of Sunday, the 9th, General McClellan took leave of his staff officers by appointment. It was a touching and impressive scene. A large fire of logs was blazing within the enclosure formed by the tents of the Headquarters. General McClellan stood just inside of his marquee, the curtains of which were parted and drawn up. As the officers of his staff approached, he grasped each warmly by the hand, and, with a few words of friendly greeting, ushered him inside. The tent was soon filled, and many were compelled to remain outside. Filling a glass of wine, General McClellan raised it, and said, “To the army of the Potomac,” to which an officer present added, “and to its old commander.” An hour or two of social converse passed, and the officers took leave of their beloved commander,--sadly, sorrowfully.

Monday, the 10th, was occupied in visiting the various camps and bidding farewell to his troops. A person present at this scene has thus described it:--“As General McClellan, mounted upon a fine horse, attended by a retinue of fine-looking military men, riding rapidly through the ranks, gracefully recognized and bade a farewell to the army, the cries and demonstrations of the men were beyond bounds,--wild, impassioned, and unrestrained. Disregarding all military forms, they rushed from their [337] ranks, and thronged around him with the bitterest complaints against those who had removed from command their beloved leader.”

As he rode up to the Headquarters of General Fitz-John Porter, he was met by a large delegation of officers in that command, and addressed by General Butterfield, who, in a few well-chosen words, alluded to the affection existing between General McClellan and his officers, and stated that those on behalf of whom he spoke were there to bid him a personal farewell. In reply, General McClellan said, “I hardly know what to say to you, my friends, officers associated with me so long in the Army of the Potomac. I can only bid you farewell. History will do justice to the deeds of the Army of the Potomac, if the present generation does not. I feel as if I had been intimately connected with each and all of you. Nothing is more binding than the friendship of companions in arms. May you all in future preserve the high reputation of our army, and serve all as well and faithfully as you have served me. I will say farewell now, if I must say it. Good-bye: God bless you.”

On the 11th, General McClellan left Warrenton. On reaching Warrenton Junction, a salute was fired. The troops, who had been drawn up in line, afterwards broke their ranks; the soldiers crowded around him, and many eagerly called for a few parting words. He said, in response, while standing on the platform of the railroad-station, “I wish you to stand by General Burnside as you have stood by me, and all will be well.” [338]

He reached Washington, but, without stopping, went to the station of the Philadelphia Railroad, and proceeded to the latter city in the train which started at five P. M. lie arrived at Philadelphia about midnight, and was there greeted with music and cheers from a crowd assembled to welcome him. tie appeared upon the platform, and said,--

Fellow-citizens of Philadelphia, I thank you for your kindness. I have parted with your brothers and sons in the Army of the Potomac too recently to make a speech. Our parting was sad. I can say nothing more to you; and I do not think you ought to expect a speech from me.

He arrived at Trenton, his point of destination, at four o'clock on the morning of the 12th.

On the evening of the 13th, an address of welcome was made to General McClellan, on behalf of the citizens of Trenton, by Andrew Dutcher, Esq. A large number of interested and sympathizing spectators were present. In reply, he said,--

My friends,--for I feel that you are all my friends,--I stand before you not as a maker of speeches, not as a politician, but as a soldier. I came among you to seek quiet and repose, and from the moment I came among you I have received nothing but kindness; and, although I came among you a stranger, I am well acquainted with your history. From the time I took command, your gallant sons were with me, from the siege of Yorktown to the battle of Antietam. I was with them, and witnessed their bravery, and that of the ever-faithful and ever-true Taylor and the intrepid and dashing Kearney. One word more. While the army is fighting, you, as citizens, should see that the war is prosecuted for the preservation [339] of the Union and the Constitution, for your nationality and rights as citizens.

Since the time of his removal from the command of the Army of the Potomac, General McClellan has not had any military duties assigned to him, but has been living, unemployed, the life of a private citizen. At this moment of writing (July, 1864), he resides at Orange, in the State of New Jersey, where his home has been for some months past.

In the winter of 1863, General McClellan, accompanied by his wife and two or three officers of his staff, paid a visit to Boston, arriving there on the 29th of January and remaining till the 8th of February. He came upon the invitation of several gentlemen, not all of one political party, but all uniting in their desire to testify to him in person their gratitude for his services and the esteem in which they held him as an officer and a citizen. Though the visit was thus strictly private, the general and earnest desire of the people to sec him gave to it something of the nature of a public reception. His movements were followed and his steps watched by earnest and interested crowds, who greeted him, whenever he was seen, with hearty enthusiasm. His time was busily employed in visiting the points of attraction in Boston and its neighborhood, and in receiving those social attentions which were tendered to him with a most liberal hand. His visit must have been highly gratifying to him; and it is certain that he left a most agreeable impression upon all who met him, from [340] his quiet and simple manners, and his careful abstinence from self-reference and complaints of others. It was easy to see that he had qualified himself to command others by first learning to command himself.

During his stay in Boston a very handsome sword was presented to him; and the value of the testimonial was enhanced by the fact that the cost, amounting to several hundred dollars, was defrayed by a subscription limited to one dollar from each person. Among the subscribers — to their honor be it said — were not a few members of the Republican party, who, while they supported the Administration, were willing to acknowledge its mistakes. The inscription which the sword bore, “Pro rege saepe, Pro patria semper,” excited an amount of discussion and comment in the newspaper press in which future observers will recognize an amusing instance of the importance which trifles may assume when viewed through a properly magnifying medium.

While in Boston, he was invited to visit Concord, New Hampshire, Portland and Augusta, in Maine, and other places; but he was not able to accept any of these gratifying invitations.

In October, 1863, the State election in Pennsylvania took place. Governor Curtin was the Republican candidate for Governor, and Judge Woodward the Democratic. The election was contested with great ardor, and all over the country much interest was felt in the result. It was thought that the vote of the soldiers, who were coming into the State [341] in great numbers, was of much importance, and would, perhaps, decide the contest. They were all devoted to General McClellan; but an impression was spread among them that he was in favor of Governor Curtin. A correspondent of “The press,” a leading political journal, had so stated. Under these circumstances, it was deemed by the friends of Judge Woodward highly important that this erroneous impression should be removed by a distinct contradiction under General McClellan's own hand. Accordingly, one of Judge Woodward's friends left Philadelphia on Sunday evening, October 11,--the day of the election being Tuesday, October 13,--and went to Orange, New Jersey, and laid the whole matter before General McClellan. The result was the following letter:--

dear Sir:--My attention has been called to an article in the Philadelphia Press, asserting that I had written to the managers of a Democratic meeting at Allentown, disapproving the objects of the meeting, and that, if I voted or spoke, it would be in favor of Governor Curtin. I am informed that similar assertions have been made throughout the State. It has been my earnest endeavor heretofore to avoid participating in party politics, and I am determined to adhere to this course.

But it is obvious that I cannot longer maintain silence under such misrepresentations.

I therefore request you to deny that I have written any such letter or entertained any such views as those attributed to me in the Philadelphia Press, and I desire to state, clearly and distinctly, that, having some few [342] days ago had a full conversation with Judge Woodward, I find that our views agree, and I regard his election as Governor of Pennsylvania called for by the interests of the nation.

I understand Judge Woodward to be in favor of the prosecution of the war, with all the means at the command of the loyal States, until the military power of the rebellion is destroyed. I understand him to be of the opinion that, while the war is waged with all possible decision and energy, the policy directing it should be in consonance with the principles of humanity and civilization, working no injury to private rights and property not demanded by military law among civilized nations; and, finally, I understand him to agree with me in the opinion that the sole great objects of this war are the restoration of the unity of the nation, the preservation of the Constitution, and the supremacy of the laws of the country.

Believing that our opinions entirely agree on these points, I would, were it in my power, give to Judge Woodward my voice and my vote.

I am, very respectfully, yours,

The above letter was immediately telegraphed to Philadelphia, but it was not published till late in the afternoon of Monday, the 12th, and then it was freely denounced as a forgery; and thus it failed to exert the influence upon the election which it might have done had it appeared earlier.

General McClellan must have been flattered by the amount and character of the discussion which this letter called forth, since it proved how much weight was attached to his name and opinion. There are occasions in the life of every public man [343] in which he will be blamed whether he does a certain act or declines to do it; and this was one of those occasions. Those who were loudest in denouncing him for writing and publishing the letter would have been entitled to a better hearing had they uttered a word of censure upon the shameful fraud which drew it forth from a man always disinclined to embrace opportunities for public display, and who now only exercised the undoubted right of every freeman.

On the 18th of February, 1864, an incident occurred in the city of New York, which showed how much the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac were attached to their old commander. On that day, an official reception was given by the municipal authorities to the veterans of the First New York Cavalry, at which General McClellan, under whom they had served, was present. When the approach of their old commander was announced, the soldiers rushed to the door to meet him; and as he entered the room they crowded round him so that he could hardly walk. After an interchange of greetings between him and the officers, Colonel McReynolds, who commanded the regiment, spoke as follows:--

soldiers:--But a short time ago the chairman of this occasion did us the honor to refer to the fact that the First New York Cavalry were the last on the Chickahominy and the first to reach the James River. It was a proud announcement, gentlemen, and it was true. I now have the honor, and the great pleasure, to announce to you that the noble chieftain who led the Army of tho [344] Potomac on that occasion, that matchless chieftain, General George B. McClellan--[cheers lasting several minutes],--I do not blame you for your enthusiasm,--General George B. McClellan, has honored you with his presence. If you will keep still for a moment, I have no doubt he will speak to you.

General McClellan replied, as follows:--

my friends and comrades:--I came here not to make a speech to you, but to welcome you home, and express to you the pride I have always felt in watching your career, not only when you were with me, but since I left the Army of the Potomac, while you have been fighting battles under others, and your old commander. I can tell you now, conscientiously and truly, I am proud of you in every respect. There is not one page of your record — not a line of it — of which you, your State, and your country may not be proud. I congratulate you on the patriotism that so many of you have evinced in your desire to re-enter the service. I hope, I pray, and I know that your future career will be as glorious as your past. I have one other hope; and that is that we may yet servo together some day again.

Loud cheers followed the conclusion of this speech, and officers and men cried out, “We'll follow you anywhere, general!”

After a speech from Major Harkins, General McClellan took leave with a few words of farewell, the soldiers cheering and crowding round him as he went out of the room.

General McClellan has recently appeared before the public, with much honor to himself, in a literary capacity. In the autumn of 1863, the officers [345] of the army stationed at West Point formed an association for erecting at that post a monument in commemoration of such officers of the regular army as shall have fallen in the service during the present war. The permission of the Secretary of War to erect the proposed monument at West Point was obtained, and letters were addressed to commanding generals and others, describing the project and soliciting co-operation. Many favorable replies were received; and in January, 1864, a general circular was sent to the officers of the army, setting forth the plan and asking subscriptions. The response to this appeal was so universal, prompt, and earnest that the committee who had the enterprise in charge felt authorized to make choice of a site for the proposed monument and have it consecrated by appropriate religious ceremonies. Trophy Point, on the northern brow of the plain on which West Point stands, was accordingly selected, and the 15th of June, 1864, was named as the day for its dedication. General McClellan was requested to deliver the oration.

On the appointed day the site for the proposed monument was consecrated by appropriate religious services. The oration by General McClellan was heard with great interest and deep attention by a very large audience, and, after its delivery, was immediately published in many of the Democratic newspapers of the country. It was much commended by all who had the opportunity to read it and were unprejudiced enough to avail themselves of such opportunity, for its high-toned patriotism, [346] its judicious choice of topics, its natural eloquence, and manly energy of style.2

In the course of a brief excursion which followed the delivery of the address above alluded to, General McClellan received many gratifying proofs of the affectionate attachment felt for him by the people of the country generally, and of the lively interest with which they follow his movements. On the evening of the 18th of June, at Fort William Henry, on the banks of Lake George, he was serenaded; and, at the close of the music, having been introduced by Judge Brown to the numerous party which had assembled to pay their respects to him, he addressed them, as follows:--

I thank you, my friends, for this welcome and pleasing evidence of your regard. It is a most happy termination of the delightful week I have passed in the midst of this beautiful region, among such warm and friendly hearts. When men come, as you have done, some many miles from the mountains and valleys, it means something more than empty compliment or idle courtesy. At all events, I so regard it, and understand this sudden gathering of men who are in truth the strength of the nation as intended to show your love and gratitude to the gallant men who have so long fought under my command, [347] and as an evidence to any who may dare to doubt, whether abroad, at home, or in the rebellious States, that the people of this portion of the country intend to support to the last the Union of our great nation, the sacredness of its Constitution and laws, against whoever may attack them. I do not flatter myself that this kind demonstration is a mark of personal regard to me, but that it means far more than that. You add to the cogent arguments afforded by the deeds of your sons and brothers in the field the sanction and weight of your opinion in favor of the justice and vital importance of the real cause for which we are fighting, and the cause which should never be perverted or lost sight of.

It has been my good fortune to have had near me in very trying times many of your near relations. In truth, there must be among you now men who went with me through the memorable seven days of battle that commenced just two years ago to-day. It is only just that I should thank you now for the valor and patriotism of your sons and brothers who were with me in the Army of the Potomac, from Yorktown to Antietam. Yet how could they be other than brave and patriotic? for they first saw the light amid scenes classical in our earliest history, and sprang from ancestors who won and held their mountains in hundreds of combats against the Indians, the French, and the English. After a gallant defence of the now ruined ramparts of William Henry, the blood of many of your grandsires moistened the very ground on which you now stand, in a butchery permitted by the cruel apathy of Montcalm, who, two years afterwards, suffered for his crimes in the great battle under the walls of Quebec, where others of your ancestors bore a most honorable part. Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Saratoga, are all names made sacred to you by the bravery of your fathers, who there made illustrious the name of American troops. [348]

In this latter and more dreadful war you and yours have proved worthy of the reputation of your predecessors. And, whatever sacrifice may yet be necessary, I am confident that you will never consent willingly to be citizens of a divided and degraded nation, but that you will so support the actions of your fellow-countrymen in the field that we shall be victorious, and again have peace and a reunited country, when the hearts of the North and South shall again beat in unison, as they did in the good old times of the Revolution, when our Union and Constitution shall be as firm as the mountains which encircle this lovely lake, and the future of the Republic shall be as serene as the waters of Horicon when no breeze ripples its surface.

1 This is a curious sentence, and deserves a little examination. The date of the document on which it appears is December 2, 1862, and the general-in-chief says that on that day he was ignorant of General McClellan's plans because the latter, from a date about a month previous, had ceased to communicate with him personally and had sent his reports directly to the President. Are we to understand that the relations between the President and the general-in-chief were such during the whole month of November, 1862, that the latter never saw, never was informed of, the communications addressed to the former by the general commanding the largest army in the field? But, if the statement does not mean this, it is a mere gratuitous effusion of spite against General McClellan. If it means this, will any body believe it?

Again, “about this time” General McClellan ceased to communicate with the general-in-chief. About what time? Two dates Lad just before been mentioned,--October 26 and November 3; and there is nothing to indicate which of the two was meant. If it were the latter, General McClellan could not have had time to send many communications to anybody after that day, as he was deprived of his command on the 7th: if it were the former, then the statement is not true; for in the appendix to General Halleck's testimony, as published by the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, there appear no less than six despatches addressed to him by General McClellan after October 26.

General McClellan's communications to the President were generally in reply to inquiries or suggestions from the latter, whose restless and meddlesome spirit was constantly moving him to ask questions, obtrude advice, and make comments upon military matters, which were as much out of his sphere as they were beyond his comprehension.

It is true that General McClellan did not communicate his plans of the campaign either to the President or the general-in-chief; but surely he is to be commended for this. The success of a military movement often depends upon its being kept an entire secret from the enemy. General McClellan had learned by experience the danger of revealing, even in official conversation, his future operations; and it would have been an increased risk if he had made the telegraph-wire a confidant.

The whole passage is characteristic of the inventive ingenuity which has been shown, from first to last, in devising pretexts to find fault with General McClellan.

2 On account of the striking merits both of substance and form of this discourse,--and it is of no more than moderate length,--it is inserted in the Appendix in full, in the belief that General McClellan's friends will be glad to possess, in a shape less fleeting than that of a newspaper or pamphlet, a production so strongly stamped with the characteristics of his mind and character.

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