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Chapter 13:

  • Concluding reflections

The final chapter of the biography of General McClellan can find no more appropriate opening than the concluding pages of his Report, in which he gives a brief abstract of the history and fortunes of the Army of the Potomac, comprising what they did, what they failed to do, and the reasons for both.

In this Report I have confined myself to a plain narrative of such facts as are necessary for the purposes of history.

Where it was possible, I have preferred to give these facts in the language of despatches, written at the time of their occurrence, rather than to attempt a new relation.

The reports of the subordinate commanders, hereto [349] annexed, recite what time and space would fail me to mention here,--those individual instances of conspicuous bravery and skill by which every battle was marked. To them I must especially refer; for without them this narrative would be incomplete, and justice fail to be done. But I cannot omit to tender to my corps commanders, and to the general officers under them, such ample recognition of their cordial co-operation and their devoted services as those reports abundantly avouch.

I have not sought to defend the army which I had the honor to command, nor myself, against the hostile criticisms once so rife.

It has seemed to me that nothing more was required than such a plain and truthful narrative to enable those whose right it is to form a correct judgment on the important matters involved.

This Report is, in fact, a history of the Army of the Potomac.

During the period occupied in the organization of that army, it served as a barrier against the advance of a lately victorious enemy while the fortification of the capital was in progress; and, under the discipline which it then received, it acquired strength, education, and some of that experience which is necessary to success in active operations, and which enabled it afterwards to sustain itself under circumstances trying to the most heroic men. Frequent skirmishes occurred along the lines, conducted with great gallantry, which inured our troops to the realities of war.

The army grew into shape but slowly; and the delays which attended on the obtaining of arms, continuing late into the winter of 1861-62, were no less trying to the soldiers than to the people of the country. Even at the time of the organization of the Peninsular campaign, some of the finest regiments were without rifles; nor were the utmost exertions on the part of the military [350] authorities adequate to overcome the obstacles to active service.

When, at length, the army was in condition to take the field, the Peninsular campaign was planned and entered upon with enthusiasm by officers and men. Had this campaign been followed up as it was designed, I cannot doubt that it would have resulted in a glorious triumph to our arms and the permanent restoration of the power of the Government in Virginia and North Carolina, if not throughout the revolting States. It was, however, otherwise ordered; and, instead of reporting a victorious campaign, it has been my duty to relate the heroism of a reduced army, sent upon an expedition into an enemy's country, there to abandon one and originate another and new plan of campaign, which might and would have been successful if supported with appreciation of its necessities, but which failed because of the repeated failure of promised support at the most critical and, as it proved, the most fatal moments. That heroism surpasses ordinary description. Its illustration must be left for the pen of the historian in times of calm reflection, when the nation shall be looking back to the past from the midst of peaceful days.

For me, now, it is sufficient to say that my comrades were victors on every field save one; and there the endurance of a single corps accomplished the object oa its fighting, and, by securing to the army its transit to the James, left to the enemy a ruinous and barren victory.

The Army of the Potomac was first reduced by the withdrawal from my command of the division of General Blenker, which was ordered to the Mountain Department, under General Fremont. We had scarcely landed on the Peninsula when it was further reduced by a despatch revoking a previous order giving me command of Fortress Monroe, and under which I had expected to [351] take ten thousand men from that point to aid in our operations. Then, when under fire before the defences of Yorktown, we received the news of the withdrawal of General McDowell's corps of about thirty-five thousand men. This completed the overthrow of the original plan of the campaign.

About one-third of my entire army (five divisions out of fourteen; one of the nine remaining being but little larger than a brigade) was thus taken from me. Instead of a rapid advance which I had planned, aided by a flank movement up the York River, it was only left to besiege Yorktown. That siege was successfully conducted by the army; and when these strong works at length yielded to our approaches, the troops rushed forward to the sanguinary but successful battle of Williamsburg, and thus opened an almost unresisted advance to the banks of the Chickahominy. Richmond lay before them, surrounded with fortifications, and guarded by an army larger than our own; but the prospect did not shake the courage of the brave men who composed my command. Relying still on the support which the vastness of our undertaking and the grand results depending on our success seemed to insure us, we pressed forward. The weather was stormy beyond precedent. The deep soil of the Peninsula was at times one vast morass. The Chickahominy rose to a higher stage than had been known for years before. Pursuing the advance, the crossings were seized, and the right wing extended to effect a junction with reinforcements now promised and earnestly desired, and upon the arrival of which the complete success of the campaign seemed clear.

The brilliant battle of Hanover Court-House was fought, which opened the way for the First Corps,--with the aid of which, had it come, we should then have gone into the enemy's capital. It never came. The bravest army could not do more, under such overwhelming disconfident [352] appointment, than the Army of the Potomac then did. Fair Oaks attests their courage and endurance when they hurled back, again and again, the vastly superior masses of the enemy. But mortal men could not accomplish the miracles that seemed to have been expected of them. But one course was left,--a flank march, in the face of a powerful enemy, to another and better base,--one of the most hazardous movements in war. The Army of the Potomac, holding its own safety, and almost the safety of our cause, in its hands, was equal to the occasion. The seven days are classical in American history,--those days in which the noble soldiers of the Union and Constitution fought an overwhelming enemy by day, and retreated from successive victories by night, through a week of battle, closing the terrible scenes of conflicts with the ever-memorable victory at Malvern, where they drove back, beaten and shattered, the entire Eastern army of the Confederacy, and thus secured for themselves a place of rest and a point for a new advance upon the capital from the banks of the James. Richmond was still within our grasp, had the Army of the Potomac been reinforced and permitted to advance. But counsels which I cannot but think subsequent events proved unwise prevailed in Washington, and we were ordered to abandon the campaign. Never did soldiers better deserve the thanks of a nation than the Army of the Potomac for the deeds of the Peninsular campaign; and, although that meed was withheld from them by the authorities, I am persuaded they have received the applause of the American people.

The Army of the Potomac was recalled from within sight of Richmond, and incorporated with the Army of Virginia. The disappointments of the campaign on the Peninsula had not damped their ardor nor diminished their patriotism. They fought well, faithfully, gallantly, under General Pope, yet were compelled to fall back on Washington, defeated and almost demoralized. [353]

The enemy, no longer occupied in guarding his own capital, poured his troops northward, entered Maryland, threatened Pennsylvania, and even Washington itself. Elated by his recent victories, and assured that our troops were disorganized and dispirited, he was confident that the seat of war was now permanently transferred to the loyal States, and that his own exhausted soil was to be relieved from the burden of supporting two hostile armies. But he did not understand the spirit which animated the soldiers of the Union. I shall not, nor can I, living, forget that, when I was ordered to the command of the troops for the defence of the capital, the soldiers with whom I had shared so much of the anxiety and pain and suffering of the war had not lost their confidence in me as their commander. They sprang to my call with all their ancient vigor, discipline, and courage. I led them into Maryland. Fifteen days after they had fallen back, defeated, before Washington, they vanquished the enemy on the rugged heights of South Mountain, pursued him to the hard-fought field of Antietam, and drove him, broken and disappointed, across the Potomac into Virginia.

The army had need of rest. After the terrible experiences of battles and marches, with scarcely an interval of repose, which they had gone through from the time of leaving for the Peninsula, the return to Washington, the defeat in Virginia, the victory at South Mountain, and again at Antietam, it was not surprising that they were in a large degree destitute of the absolute necessaries to effective duty. Shoes were worn out; blankets were lost; clothing was in rags: in short, the army was unfit for active service, and an interval for rest and equipment was necessary. When the slowly-forwarded supplies came to us, I led the army across the river, renovated and refreshed, in good order and discipline, and followed the retreating foe to a position where I was [354] confident of decisive victory,--when, in the midst of the movement, while my advance-guard was actually in contact with the enemy, I was removed from the command.

I am devoutly grateful to God that my last campaign with this brave army was crowned with a victory which saved the nation from the greatest peril it had then undergone. I have not accomplished my purpose if by this Report the Army of the Potomac is not placed high on the roll of the historic armies of the world. Its deeds ennoble the nation to which it belongs. Always ready for battle, always firm, steadfast, and trustworthy, I never called on it in vain; nor will the nation ever have cause to attribute its want of success under myself, or under other commanders, to any failure of patriotism or bravery in that noble body of American soldiers.

No man can justly charge upon any portion of that army, from the commanding general to the private, any lack of devotion to the service of the United States Government and to the cause of the Constitution and the Union. They have proved their fealty in much sorrow, suffering, danger, and through the very shadow of death. Their comrades, dead on all the fields where we fought, have scarcely more claim to the honor of a nation's reverence than the survivors to the justice of a nation's gratitude.

To this mournful, eloquent, and modest summing up of the case there is not much to be added. At the close of the biography of a distinguished military commander, the reader naturally looks for an analysis and exposition of his military genius, and, if not a comparison with the great generals of other countries and other times, at least some statement of his merits, some enumeration of his claims. But there is an obvious embarrassment in thus dealing [355] with one who is still living, and may chance to read the pages in which his military character is delineated. What is just praise when spoken of the dead may sound like flattery when spoken of the living. In the interview between Solon and Croesus, so beautifully narrated by Herodotus, the king was told by his wise guest that no man could be called happy until a fortunate life had been closed by a peaceful death; for that so long as a man was alive he was the sport and prey of fortune, and no one could tell what the future had in store for him. In like manner, no accurate estimate can be made of the worth and services of a soldier or statesman until the seal of death is set upon his rounded life and there is no more for him any earthly future. Far distant, we trust, is the day when it will be seasonable to take the gauge and dimensions of General McClellan's powers and accomplishments and assign to him his due place on the roll of departed worth.

And there are other reasons why we must be content to wait for a calm and dispassionate estimate of General McClellan's services and merits. A civil war was raging when he was dismissed from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and it is raging still; and the end seems neither near nor certain. A nation engaged in so fierce a struggle as ours is in, no condition to weigh, to examine, to compare, and to decide,--as a lake lashed into fury by the tempest can return no true image of the sky that bends over it. The passions which civil war fosters and creates forbid the exercise of a judicial understanding. A court of justice [356] must needs adjourn if a battle be going on under its windows. All our energies, all our faculties, are absorbed in action, and all questions that require deliberation must be postponed to a more quiet season. We cannot afford to listen. The only pause we can brook is such brief interval of repose as exhausted nature demands. Before justice can be done him, General McClellan must wait for more peaceful times and minds less agitated and absorbed. To-day we adjourn the hearing, as Neptune, in the Aeneid, adjourned the punishment of his rebellious winds, because of the instant need of stilling the tempest they had raised:--

Quos ego — sed motos praestat componere fluctus.

Besides, at this moment a considerable portion of his countrymen have their minds barred against all arguments and considerations in defence of General McClellan, by political prejudice. To deny him all military capacity is part of the creed of a great political party. Most supporters of the present Administration hold it to be a point of duty to disparage and decry him. This is no strange phenomenon. Parallel cases may be found in the history of every country in which public opinion is allowed free expression. There was a time — and the period lasted for years — in which every whig statesman in England felt bound to call in question the military genius of the Duke of Wellington,1 [357] and just so the Bourbons and their followers constantly denied the military greatness of Bonaparte.

But General McClellan has been so unjustly treated and so unscrupulously slandered that something more is required, simply as a matter of truth and fair dealing, in vindication and defence of him. After what has passed, silence might seem like acquiescence in charges which are as false as they are injurious. It is no fault of General McClellan that events have taken such a turn that it is impossible to write a life of him without taking a somewhat controversial attitude. A few remarks are, consequently, submitted, which are in the nature of a comment upon some points of the evidence presented in the preceding pages.

First of all: there are some persons who deny to General McClellan all merit whatever as a commander, maintaining that he has neither the capacity to plan a campaign nor to fight a battle, nd that every thing successfully done by him was either the work of others or the result of pure accident. With such persons it is useless to reason, as to do so would be simply a waste of time. No arguments or considerations would have any power to shake an impression like this. Men who hold this opinion of the conqueror of Malvern Hill and Antietam are, in the intellectual line, legitimate [358] descendants of those subjects of George the Third who used to maintain that Napoleon Bonaparte was deficient in the quality of personal courage. A prejudice of this kind is as much proof against reason as the diseased fancy of a hypochondriac who believes that his legs are made of glass, or that he is followed everywhere by a blue dog. “You must have observed,” said Mr. Grenville, in a letter to Mr. Pitt, “that of all impressions the most difficult to be removed are those which have no reason to support them; because against them no reason can be applied.”

But there are other persons, more reasonable, more discriminating, who, while they allow General McClellan to be an accomplished and meritorious officer, capable of doing excellent service in a subordinate sphere, hold also the opinion that when at the head of an army his good qualities are neutralized by his slowness, his over-cautiousness, his want of dash, his inability to take advantage of the sudden opportunities which the fortune of war presents. The force of this objection is in some measure neutralized by the fact that it is so common in military history. The popular mind is always eager for results in war, and ignorant of the conditions essential to success. Without citing any further examples, Washington and Wellington,2 [359] while their campaigns were going on, were constantly censured for their slowness. It is a charge easily made, and not easily answered; for the defence must often rest upon a variety of considerations which the critic is too impatient to listen to. General McClellan is, by nature and temperament, wisely cautious, prudent, and deliberate,--the reverse of rash and impulsive; and these traits are, of course, shown in his military career. lie never incurs great risks or plays a desperate game. He is, besides, a humane man, very careful of the lives of his soldiers, and not needlessly shedding human blood. And, lastly, he is a man of moral firmness and just self-reliance, who will never be induced by popular clamor to take a step which he deems unwise, or forego a precaution which he deems necessary. A man like this at the head of an army will often incur the charge of slowness and inertness, and the charge will be made most positively by those who are the least qualified to form a correct judgment in the premises. Public opinion — that is, contemporaneous public opinion — is not of any great value on a question like this. Ignorance and prejudice are both obstacles in the way to a correct understanding of military measures and military men. A battle won is a fact which all can understand; but comparatively few are competent to determine how much merit is due, [360] or rather how little blame should be attached, to the general who has had the misfortune to lose a battle. Upon a charge of slowness and over-cautiousness General McClellan has a right to be tried by his peers,--that is, by the officers of the regular army, and especially by those who have served under him. To their judgment he can confidently appeal, and by their verdict he is ready to stand or fall.

Indecision and unreadiness are, no doubt, defects of mind or infirmities of temperament, arising from not having any plans of conduct, or from not carrying them out with promptness In either case, they are traits which taint the whole being, and lay their paralyzing touch upon all the currents of life. A sluggish, dawdling, and dilatory man may have spasms of activity, but he never acts continuously and consecutively with energetic quickness. When in a commanding general we see a campaign, or a military enterprise, marked by rapidity of movement, by plans promptly formed and vigorously executed, and when in the same man we see at another time pauses, delays, which bring upon him the reproach of slowness, it is fair to infer that his conduct in the latter case is the result of a cautious and far-seeing wisdom, which comprehends all the difficulties of the position, and knows that the more haste the less speed, so far as the matter in hand is concerned. The evidence as to general character is important in an issue like this.

Let us apply these principles to General McClellan's military career. [361]

In the first place, no one has ever pretended, no one can pretend, that he is a military commander who acts without previously-formed plans, without having determined beforehand what he shall do and how he shall do it. On the contrary, he is peculiarly and singularly thoughtful of the future, carefully meditating every step of his progress, and vigilant in providing against all possible contingencies. Upon this point the evidence is irresistible and overwhelming.

But, say General McClellan's assailants and detractors, though his plans are judicious and carefully formed, he lacks quickness and vigor in carrying them out; he is slow in the saddle; he does not take time by the forelock; he lets opportunities slip by which never come a second time. But what is the evidence to support these charges? Look at his campaign in Western Virginia in 1861,--a part of his military career conveniently ignored by his enemies. Here he had a separate command, a defined field of action, and was not hampered and trammelled by interference from Washington; and do we see any signs of indecision and want of promptness here? On the contrary, we observe the happiest combination of judgment in design and vigor in execution: one skilful and powerful blow was instantly followed by another, and the result was absolute and permanent military success.

Then look at the brilliant and crowded period between the second and seventeenth days of September, 1862. On the former of these dates, the forces in and around Washington were little better [362] than a tumultuary and disorganized mob; and within forty-eight hours, as if at the touch of a magician's wand, they were converted into an effective and disciplined army. Within a fortnight from the time of their leaving Washington, they had marched fifty miles, fought two battles, gained two victories, driven out of Maryland a foe flushed with recent success, given a sense of security to Washington, and raised the spirits of every patriot in the land. Was there any time lost here? Is there any evidence here of want of decision, want of energy, want of promptness? Surely not, but all the reverse.

But all this is neutralized and made of no effect because, after the battle of Antietam, he did not cross the Potomac, pursue Lee's retreating army, and utterly destroy it! Nothing but ignorance or prejudice, one or both, could make this delay a ground for disparaging General McClellan's military reputation. Are we to suppose that the man who for fifteen days had been acting with the most extraordinary energy and vigor was suddenly so paralyzed, so smitten with procrastination, that he folded up his hands, went to sleep, and from mere indolence forbore to gather the new laurels which were within reach of his hand if he had only stretched it out? Such sudden change is inconsistent with the laws of human nature. Men are not one week brimful of fiery energy and the next eaten up by the rust of inaction. The pause made after the battle of Antietam must be interpreted by the fortnight of crowded and intense action which [363] preceded it; and to an unprejudiced and instructed mind it is vindicated by the soundest military reasoning.

But he failed to take Richmond, it is said. This is true; but it is equally true that this failure was no fault of his. To what causes it was due is set forth in the preceding pages, and especially in the concluding portion of General McClellan's Report, copied into this chapter. He never would have undertaken to capture Richmond with a force so small as that to which he was finally reduced by the interference of the Administration with his plans, and their broken faith. It is no disparagement to a general that, having only ninety thousand men, he did not succeed in an enterprise which he had undertaken upon the assurance that he should have a hundred and forty thousand. Besides, he was forbidden to go on with it, and his army sent to General Pope; with what result need not be repeated. The Peninsular campaign of 1862, as planned, was General McClellan's; as executed, it was that of the President and the Secretary of War: and upon them the responsibility of failure must rest. Had they kept their faith, had they sent to General McClellan the reinforcements which again and again had been promised him, and which he again and again demanded, there is very little question that Richmond would have been taken. The military chances were greatly in favor of such a result.

Of course, as Richmond in point of fact was not captured, the enemies of General McClellan may [364] say that it would not have been, even if he had had all the forces he asked for or desired. An assertion like this cannot be denied point-blank. To bandy opinions about the past is only one whit less unprofitable than to bandy predictions about the future. All that can be affirmed is that General McClellan's plans were such that, in all human probability, success would have followed had he been permitted to carry them out.

So much may be said by way of defence of General McClellan against the charges most commonly brought against him, and in rebuttal of the evidence put in on the other side; but there are some considerations which are in the nature of distinct and positive testimony in his behalf, on which it is but just to him to say a few words.

In the first place, with the single exception of the battle of Gaines's Mill, in which some thirty-five thousand men retired, without disorder or demoralization, before twice their number, no army led by General McClellan, or that was under his control, has ever been defeated. This is a significant and important fact, and all the more so from the comparisons which are forced upon every unbiassed mind by the unjust treatment which General McClellan has received at the hands of the Administration. In August, 1862, the Army of the Potomac was taken from him and intrusted to General Pope; and the consequence was the disaster at Bull Run on the 30th of the same month, the second misfortune to our arms on that ill-omened field. In November of the same year he was [365] “relieved” of the command of the same army, and General Burnside was put in his place; and then came the mournful defeat at Fredericksburg on the 13th of December. Here is Malvern Hill against Bull Run; here are South Mountain and Antietam against Fredericksburg. But General McClellan was practically dismissed from the army, with every mark of ignominy and disgrace, and General Burnside and General Pope are now, and always have been, in honorable and responsible military commands. We have nothing to do with these two last-named officers, nor do we care to discuss the policy of the Administration towards them; but it is unjust and unreasonable that the tenderness and consideration which have been so liberally extended to them should be so utterly withheld from General McClellan, and that he should be disgraced for his victories while they are rewarded, or at least forgiven, for their defeats. He asks no favors; but he has a right to demand consistency and justice.

In the next place, General McClellan has always had the love and trust of the soldiers he has commanded, and, with a few exceptions, has enjoyed the respect, confidence, and affection of the officers who have served under him. At this moment his name is a tower of strength with the Army of the Potomac. This is an important fact, a weighty piece of evidence in his behalf. Upon the merits of a general in command, the opinion of the army which serves under him is of far more value than the opinion of the public. The [366] former cannot be deceived or imposed upon by a reputation made to order by politicians, editors, and army-correspondents. The judgment of the army is like the judgment of experts in a patentcase, or of nautical men in an insurance-case. The consequences of incapacity are too serious to permit any delusion or mystification on the subject. And the value of this favorable judgment is enhanced by the high standard of intelligence in our army, by the fact that the rank and file, in general, is made up of men who read, write, think, and discuss their civil and military leaders. They know, by personal experience, his skill, judgment, and wisdom.

It is beyond question that General McClellan is an accomplished officer, well read in his profession, and master of such knowledge of the art of war as can be learned from books. And many of those who deny to him the praise of rapid and brilliant execution in the field admit his merit in that department of the art of war which is called strategy, as distinguished from tactics. “Strategy,” says Jomini, “is the art of properly directing masses upon the theatre of war, whether for the invasion of a country or for the defence of one's own.” It includes the choice of a fixed base of operations, of zones and lines of operations, of strategic lines, and of vital geographical points to occupy offensively or to cover defensively; or, in popular language, it is the planning and laying out beforehand of a campaign. It supposes an intimate knowledge [367] of the physical features of the country comprised within the zone of operations, and a prophetic sagacity in determining and selecting those decisive strategic points the possession of which insures the control of a region important to hold. It selects the spots where magazines of supplies should be formed, as well as where permanent fortifications should be constructed. The strategist is to the tactician what the architect is to the builder. Blucher and Ney, among others, were instances of men of the most brilliant conduct on the field of battle who had no power of strategy, no capacity of organizing a campaign or of directing the movements of detached bodies of troops so as to bring them to bear upon a given point at the same time. On the other hand, the Archduke Charles, who as a strategist had no rival but Napoleon himself, is thought to have sometimes shown a want of quickness and decision on the field of battle. That General McClellan is capable of planning and organizing a campaign, of designating movements to be executed by others, can be doubted by no man of candid mind who will read his memorandum on the conduct of the war, addressed to the President, and to be found in the fifth chapter of the present work, and his letters of instruction to Generals Halleck, Buell, Sherman, and Butler, contained in his Report. Strategy is the most important department of the art of war, and strategical skill is the highest and rarest function of military genius. To handle troops well on the field of battle, to retain self-possession [368] amid “all the currents of a heady fight,” to take advantage of any mistake made by the enemy, to repair the mischances and disasters in his own ranks, requires a man of no common capacity; but yet higher powers are demanded of him who at the head of a great army executes a series of movements, extending over several weeks perhaps, which finally compel an adversary to give battle at a point and under conditions which insure his defeat. The superiority of the Archduke Charles in this the most intellectual part of his profession has given him the second place on the roll of honor of the great generals in the wars of the French Revolution.

But General McClellan has shown great moral qualities in his, career of public service, which are elements of what may be called character, in distinction from pure intellectual force. The spotless purity of his private life has never been called in question. The rancor of partisan or personal malignity has never accused him of pecuniary corruption, of rapacity, of turning his official opportunities to his own gain or the gain of others. No swarm of unworthy favorites or needy dependants has ever buzzed around him. His record is without a blot; his hands are without a stain. His name has never been mixed up with disreputable or doubtful transactions. The charges against him are aimed at him solely in his military capacity. And this is not merely negative praise. The life of a soldier is a life of moral danger and exposures, as well as physical; and only the noblest and purest natures [369] entirely escape reproach.3 There are no eyes so sharp as the eyes of hatred; and now, for two long years, has General McClellan been watched and scanned by these, in hope to find some speck or flaw in his record; but vain has been the quest, fruitless the search. As a shield of steel dazzles and blinds the eye, so does the spotless purity of his character repel the envious and sinister glance. No slanderer, however base, no courtier, however fawning, has ever dared to accuse him of intemperance, licentiousness, rapacity, or profanity: nay, more, he has never been even suspected of them. No unscrupulous partisan sheet has ever insinuated or hinted at any such charges; no reckless platform-orator has ever suggested any thing of the kind; it has never been whispered round a camp-fire, or a dinner-table, or in a committee-room, a base Congressional mess, or a baser legislative lobby. The moral instincts of the American people are sound and good; and they have an instinctive and well-founded perception of General McClellan's moral worth which is proof against all the insinuations of malice, all the devices of calumny. The hold he has upon their hearts is due to their strong sense of his integrity, his sincerity, his disinterestedness, his loyalty to duty, his moral purity, his unspotted life; and it is a hold which cannot be lost or shaken. [370]

But this is not all. The training and education of a soldier tend to make a man keenly sensitive on the point of honor, and to feel a stain on his professional reputation like a wound. Observe the way in which the Administration has dealt with him. First, he was made general-in-chief of all the armies of the United States, then reduced to the command of the Army of the Potomac, then degraded to the post of a quartermaster at Alexandria, then suddenly and in fright made commander of the Army of the Potomac once more, then dismissed from that command as unceremoniously and abruptly as one flings a torn envelope into a waste-paper basket; and all within a single year. Such capricious changes are more like the shifting scenes of a novel or drama than like real life. But, wounding as such treatment must have been, we hear no complaint from General McClellan. He makes no appeal to the public, no protest against injustice, no demand for sympathy. If any expressions of impatience are wrung from him, it is because of his army, and not because of any thing done to, or suffered by, himself. He submits in silence to the will of the Administration; he discharges faithfully the duties of every position devolved upon him; he asks only for the privilege of serving his country. During the long period of his enforced idleness, not one word of complaint has been heard from him: he has made no proclamation of his wrongs, no denunciation of those who have wronged him. Yet this is not an age of self-renunciation and self-sacrifice:-- [371]

Now our life is only drest
For show,--mean handiwork of craftsman, cook,
Or groom! We must run glittering like a brook
In the open sunshine, or we are unblest.

Our times are times of self-assertion and self-vindication: men push their own claims, vaunt their own services, sound their own trumpets. The virtues of manly silence, of dignified self-command, of magnanimous fortitude, which General McClellan has shown, are to be the more valued because of their rarity.

And yet the future historian of the crowded period in which we live will have to record the fact that the services of this accomplished officer, patriotic citizen, and good man were denied to his country during a civil war unparalleled in history alike for the magnitude of its movements and the intensity of the passions by which it was sustained, in which all the energies of the people were taxed to the utmost limit of endurance, and not only their wealth, but their best blood, was poured out on behalf of the Union and the Constitution with a noble devotion which caused every patriot heart to swell with pride and admiration. And he will also record the further fact that, during the long period in which this man was languishing in in-action, civilian generals, grossly and notoriously incompetent, were allowed to play at the game of war, for political stakes, with the lives of our bravest and best for their counters. Such historian will find in the events which he relates fresh illustration of the bitterness of political hatred, the ferocity of [372] partisan zeal, and the rank growth of low passions in high places; for a sullen and smouldering hate, which never goes out and never bursts forth into a generous blaze, is a low passion, which debases and degrades the breast which it haunts. And he will draw from them the further moral that there is a harmony and consistency in the works of Nature. The venom that chills and curdles the warm current of life in man is secreted only in creeping and cold-blooded creatures; and the inveterate malignity that never forgets or forgives is found only in base and ignoble natures, whose aims are selfish, whose means are indirect, cowardly, and treacherous. Anger is a fierce and sudden flame, which may be kindled in the noblest breasts; but in these the slow droppings of an unforgiving temper never take the shape and consistency of enduring hatred. The natural instincts of a generous heart shrink from an inveterate hater as the child shrinks from the snake in his path. The enemies of General McClellan, in the persistency and malignity of their attacks, furnish a key to unlock their own characters. As for him, “he will remember,” to borrow what Burke said of Fox, “that obloquy is a necessary ingredient in the composition of all true glory; he will remember that it was not only in the Roman customs, but it is in the nature and constitution of things, that calumny and abuse are essential parts of triumph. These thoughts will support a mind which exists only for honor, under the burden of temporary reproach.” And if detraction has been the meed of patriotic faith, if [373] persecution has been the reward of arduous service, if calumny has followed desert, General McClellan must find comfort in the reflection that his is no new experience, but that every generation has had similar examples of the power of the weak over the strong, and the triumph, sometimes transient and sometimes enduring, of the low and base over the high and noble. How soon the future is to right the wrongs of the past, cannot be predicted; but he is sure what the verdict of time will be, and thus he may wait patiently till it shall be rendered. [374]

1 Lord Brougham says that some very eminent statesmen constantly and greatly misjudged the Duke of Wellington till the publication of his Despatches, when they at once, and in the strongest terms, declared how grievously they had erred.--Slatesmen of the Time of George III., II. p. 355.

2 “This spirit of faction, however, was not confined to one side. There was a ministerial person at this time, who, in his dread of the opposition, wrote to Lord Wellington complaining of his inaction, and calling upon him to do something that would excite a public sensation; any thing, provided blood was spilt. A calm but severe rebuke, and the cessation of all friendly intercourse with the writer, discovered the general's abhorrence of this detestable policy.” --Napier.


I never knew a Warryer yet, but thee, From wine, tobacco, debts, dice, oaths, so free.

Thomas Carlton to Captain John Smith.

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