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Chapter XI

on the 9th of Oct. McCall's division marched from Tennally-town to Langley, on the Virginia side of the Potomac. This addition to the forces already there enabled me to push reconnoissances more actively; and as it was particularly desirable to obtain accurate information in regard to the topography of the country in front of our right, Gen. McCall was ordered to move on the 19th as far as Dranesville to cover the work of the topographical engineers directed to prepare maps of that region. On the 20th Gen. Smith pushed out strong parties to Freedom Hill, Vienna, Flint Hill, Peacock Hill, etc., with a similar object.

From his destination Gen. McCall sent the following despatch:

Dranesville, Oct. 19, 1861, 6.30 P. M.
To Gen. McClellan:
I arrived here this morning. All is quiet. No enemy seen. Country for one mile beyond Difficult creek broken and woody. Bad country to manoeuvre. Nothing but skirmishing could be done by infantry. Artillery could not leave the road. One mile beyond Difficult creek the country becomes open; some pretty battle-fields. Country high. I shall bivouac here to-night. Park is with me.


He remained near Dranesville during the whole of the 20th, covering the operations of the topographical engineers. On the morning of the 21st he sent me the following despatch:

camp near Dranesville, Va., Oct. 21, 1861, 6.30 A. M.
Maj.-Gen. Geo. B. McClellan:
general: In a couple of hours we shall have completed the plane-table survey to the ground I first occupied one and one-half [181] miles in front, and, by odometer or by observation, all the cross-roads this side of the point where me met Gen. Smith's parties, from the Alexandria pike to the L. and H. R. R., and the more northern ones from the pike to the river.

On the return march the plane-table will be at work on the Leesburg and Georgetown pike, and the side-roads to the river will be examined. . . .

Very respectfully,

Geo. A. McCall, Brig.-Gen.

On the 12th of Oct. Gen. Stone telegraphed that he thought the enemy were entrenching between Conrad's Ferry and Leesburg, about one mile from the town. In the morning of the 13th he telegraphed that the enemy had strengthened their force opposite Harrison's island by one or two regiments from below, and that much work was going on in the way of new batteries and lines, and strengthening old ones. At night on the same day he telegraphed that work had been done at Smart's Hill, that the pickets near Mason's island were largely reinforced, and that he anticipated an early attempt by the enemy to secure Mason's or Harrison's island, perhaps both, but probably the latter, commanded, as it was, by the bluffs on their side.

On the 15th he telegraphed that there was considerable movement between the river and Leesburg-apparently preparations for resistance rather than attack. On the 18th, at 10.45 P. M., he telegraphed that the enemy's pickets were withdrawn from most of the posts in our front; that he had sent an officer over the river within two miles of Leesburg the same evening, and that he should push the reconnoissances farther the following day, if all remained favorable.

Such was the state of affairs when, on the morning of the 20th, I received the following telegram from Gen. Banks's Headquarters:

Darnestown, Oct. 20, 1861.
Sir: The signal station at Sugar Loaf telegraphs that the enemy have moved away from Leesburg. All quiet here.

R. M. Copeland, Assist. Adj.-Gen. Gen. Marcy.

Whereupon I sent to Gen. Stone, at Poolesville, the following telegram: [182]

camp Griffin, Oct. 20, 1861.
Gen. McClellan desires me to inform you that Gen. McCall occupied Dranesville yesterday, and is still there. Will send out heavy reconnoissances to-day in all directions from that point. The general desires that you will keep a good look-out upon Leesburg, to see if this movement has the effect to drive them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.

Deeming it possible that Gen. McCall's movement to Dranesville, together with the subsequent reconnoissances, might have the effect of inducing the enemy to abandon Leesburg, and the despatch from Sugar Loaf appearing to confirm this view, I wished Gen. Stone--who had only a line of pickets on the river, the mass of his troops being out of sight of, and beyond range from, the Virginia bank--to make some display of an intention to cross, and also to watch the enemy more closely than usual. I did not direct him to cross, nor did I intend that he should cross the river in force for the purpose of fighting.

The above despatch was sent on the 20th, and reached Gen. Stone as early as eleven A. M. of that day. I expected him to accomplish all that was intended on the same day; and this he did, as will be seen from the following despatch received at my headquarters in Washington from Poolesville on the evening of Oct. 20:

Made a feint of crossing at this place this afternoon, and at the same time started a reconnoitring party towards Leesburg from Harrison's island. The enemy's pickets retired to entrenchments. Report of reconnoitring party not yet received. I have means of crossing one hundred and twenty-five men once in ten minutes at each of two points. River falling slowly.

As it was not foreseen or expected that Gen. McCall would be needed to co-operate with Gen. Stone in any way, he had been directed to fall back from Dranesville to his original camp, near Prospect Hill, as soon as the required reconnoissances were completed. [183]

Accordingly he left Dranesville, on his return, at about 8.30 A. M. of the 21st, reaching his old camp at about one P. M.

In the meantime I was surprised to hear from Gen. Stone that a portion of his troops were engaged on the Virginia side of the river, and at once sent instructions to Gen. McCall to remain at Dranesville, if he had not left before the order reached him.

The order did not reach him until his return to his camp at Prospect Hill. He was then ordered to rest his men, and hold his division in readiness to return to Dranesville at a moment's notice, should it become necessary. Similar instructions were given to other divisions during the afternoon.

The first intimation I received from Gen. Stone of the real nature of his movements was in a telegram, as follows:

Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 11.10 A. M.
The enemy have been engaged opposite Harrison's island: our men are behaving admirably.

At two P. M. Gen. Banks's adjutant-general sent the following:

Darnestown, Oct. 21, 1861, 2 P. M.
Gen. Stone safely crossed the river this morning. Some engagements have taken place on the other side of the river-how important is not known.

R. M. Copeland, Act. Assist. Adjt.-Gen. Gen. R. B. Marcy.

Gen. Stone sent the following despatches:

Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 1861, 2 P. M.
There has been sharp firing on the right of our line, and our troops appear to be advancing there under Baker. The left, under Gorman, has advanced its skirmishers nearly one mile, and, if the movement continues successful, will turn the enemy's right.


Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 1861, 2.20 P. M.
To Gen. Marcy:
We cross at Edward's Ferry in flat-boats — these which we have built: capacity forty-five men each — and in one canal-boat, capacity two hundred men; at Harrison's island in four flat-boats and four row-boats. There is a road from Seneca to Edward's Ferry, and from Edward's Ferry to Leesburg; also a road from opposite Seneca to the Leesburg road. The mounted men will be held in readiness. Firing pretty heavy on our right. . . .

C. P. Stone, Brig.-Gen.

This was in reply to an inquiry as to his means of crossing and the roads, also directing him to hold mounted men ready to transmit frequent reports.

Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 1861, 4 P. M.
Nearly all my force is across the river. Baker on the right, Gorman on the left. Right sharply engaged.

Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 1861, 6 P. M.
Have called on Banks for a brigade, and he has ordered up Hamilton's. I think it would be well to send up a division on the other side of the river. I think they have been reinforced.

C. P. Stone, Brig.--Gen.

The nearest division on the Virginia side (McCall's) was more than twenty miles from the scene of action, so that it could not have arrived before noon of the 22d--too late to be of any service. Moreover, its line of march would have passed not more than eleven or twelve miles from the enemy's position at Centreville, and it would thus have been exposed to be cut off, unless supported by a general movement of the Army of the Potomac, which there was nothing to justify, according to the information at that time (5.30 P. M.) in my possession. The orders I had already sent to Banks seemed best adapted to the case, as the event proved. [185]

Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 1861, 6.45 P. M.
To Maj.-Gen. McClellan:
Col Baker has been killed at the head of his brigade. I go to the right at once.

C. P. Stone, Brig.-Gen.

Gen. Stone was evidently misinformed, as Col. Baker had only one battalion of his brigade with him.

Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 1851, 9.30 P. M.
To Gen. McClellan:
I am occupied in preventing further disaster, and try to get into a position to redeem. We have lost some of our best commanders — Baker dead, Coggswell a prisoner or secreted. The wounded are being carefully and rapidly removed, and Gorman's wing is being cautiously withdrawn. Any advance from Dranesville must be made cautiously. All was reported going well up to Baker's death, but in the confusion following that the right wing was outflanked. In a few hours I shall, unless a night-attack is made, be in the same position as last night, save the loss of many good men.

C. P. Stone, Brig.-Gen.

Although not fully informed of the state of affairs, I had, during the afternoon, as a precautionary measure, ordered Gen. Banks to send one brigade to the support of the troops at Harrison's island and to move with the other two to Seneca Mills, ready to support Gen. Stone, if necessary. The 9.30 P. M. despatch of Gen. Stone did not give me entire understanding of the state of the case.

Aware of the difficulties and perhaps fatal consequences of attempting to recross such a river as the Potomac after a repulse, and from these telegrams supposing his whole force to be on the Virginia side, I sent the following telegram:

headquarters, Army of Potomac, Oct. 21, 1861, 10.30 P. M.
To Gen. C. P. Stone, Edward's Ferry:
Entrench yourself on the Virginia side and await reinforcements, if necessary.

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

[186] Shortly after the following:

Hold your position on the Virginia side of the Potomac at all hazards. Gen. Banks will support you, with one brigade at Harrison's island and the other two at Seneca. Lander will be with you at daylight.

Geo. B. McClellan, Maj.-Gen. Commanding
P. S. Change the disposition of Gen. Banks's division, if you think it necessary, so as to send two brigades to Harrison's island instead of one.

About the same time I sent the following:

headquarters Army of the Potomac, Oct. 21, 1861, 10.45 P. M.
To Gen. N. P. Banks:
Push forward your command as rapidly as possible, and put as many men over the river to reinforce Gen. Stone as you can before daylight. Gen. Stone is directed to hold his command on the Virginia side of the Potomac at all hazards, and informed that you will support him. You will assume command when you join Gen. Stone.

Geo. B. Mcclellan, Maj.-Gen. Commanding.

The following despatches were next received:

Edward's Ferry, Oct. 21, 11 P. M.
To Maj.-Gen. McClellan:
We hold the ground half a mile back of Edward's Ferry on Virginia shore. Harrison's island has parts of thirteen companies, only seven hundred (700) men, and will soon be reinforced by one hundred fresh men, besides what support Hamilton brings. I cover the shore opposite this with guns, and am disposing others to help the defence of Harrison's, I think the men will fight well. Entrenchments ordered this morning.

C. P. Stone, Brig.-Gen.

headquarters, Seneca Mills, Oct. 21, 11 P. M.
To Gen. McClellan:
Arrived here at nine and a half o'clock. Gen. Stone telegraphs [187] for whole division immediately. Col. Baker is killed, and some trouble exists on his right. We go at once.

N. P. Banks, Maj.-Gen. Commanding Division.

Hamilton's brigade arrived at midnight, and Gen. Banks with the remainder of his division reached Edward's Ferry at three A. M. of the 22d. He found Gen. Stone on the Maryland side, and reported that he ascertained that at no time had more than one-third of his (Gen. Stone's) troops crossed. Assuming command, and consulting with the generals present, he telegraphed me the facts, and received a reply directing him to send over men enough to hold the opposite side, with orders to entrench themselves; all of which was done. During the afternoon there was a skirmish, in the course of which Gen. Lander was wounded.

Meanwhile Gen. Banks had collected all the canal-boats to be found, in order to increase the means of transportation. I reached Edward's Ferry during the evening of the 22d and assumed command. Passing through Poolesville, I first learned the actual condition of affairs and the details of what had occurred, and sent the following:

Poolesville, Oct. 22, 5.30 P. M.
To President Lincoln:
From what I learn here the affair of yesterday was a more serious disaster than I had supposed. Our loss in prisoners and killed was severe. I leave at once for Edward's Ferry.

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

The following extract from the evidence of Gen. Stone before the “Committee on the Conduct of the War” on the 5th of Jan., 1862, will throw further light on this occurrence:

Gen. Stone says he received the order from my headquarters to make a slight demonstration at about eleven o'clock A. M. on the 20th, and that, in obedience to that order, he made the demonstration on the evening of the same day.

In regard to the reconnoissance on the 21st, which resulted in the battle of Ball's Bluff, he was asked the following questions:

Question. “Did this reconnoissance originate with yourself, or had you orders from the general-in-chief to make it?” [188]

To which he replied: “It originated with myself — the reconnoissance.”

Question. “The order did not proceed from Gen. McClellan?”

Answer. “I was directed the day before to make a demonstration; that demonstration was made the day previous.”

Question. “Did you receive an order from the general-in-chief to make the reconnoissance?”

Answer. “No, sir.”

Making a personal examination on the 23d, I found that the position on the Virginia side at Edward's Ferry was not a tenable one, but did not think it wise to withdraw the troops by daylight. I therefore caused more artillery to be placed in position on the Maryland side to cover the approaches to the ground held by us, and crossed the few additional troops that the high wind permitted us to get over, so as to be as secure as possible against any attack during the day.

Up to six o'clock I kept my intention secret, all supposing that I intended to advance on Leesburg. My object was not to discourage the command in the event of their being attacked. At six o'clock I sent to Gen. Stone, then on the Virginia side of the river, the detailed instructions for the withdrawal of the troops during the night. Before nightfall all the precautions were taken to secure an orderly and quiet passage of the troops and guns.

The movement was commenced soon after dark, under the personal supervision of Gen. Stone, who received the order for the withdrawal at 7.15 P. M. By four A. M. of the 24th everything had reached the Maryland shore in safety. A few days afterwards I received information, which seemed to be authentic, to the effect that large bodies of the enemy had been ordered from Manassas to Leesburg to cut off our troops on the Virginia side. Their timely withdrawal probably prevented a still more serious disaster. Gen. Stone's report of this battle and his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War furnish further details.

Gen. Banks's division deserves great credit for its rapid night-march to the relief of General Stone. On the 23th the total loss in killed, mounded, and missing was reported as 680, with stragglers constantly coming in. [189]

The true story of the affair of Ball's Bluff is, in brief, as follows:

One of Gen. Stone's officers, Capt. Philbrick, of the 15th Mass., thought that he had discovered a camp of the enemy about one mile beyond Harrison's island in the direction of Leesburg. Having completed the feint of crossing made in the course of the 20th Gen. Stone at 10.30 P. M. of the same day issued his orders for the surprise of the supposed camp at day-break of the 21st. Col. Devens, of the 15th Mass., was entrusted with the duty, with four companies of his regiment. Col. Lee, of the 20th Mass., was directed to replace Col. Devens in Harrison's island with four companies of his own regiment, one of which was to pass over to the Virginia shore and hold the heights there to cover Col. Devens's return. Col. Devens was directed to “attack the camp at daybreak, and, having routed, to pursue them as far as he deems prudent, and to destroy the camp, if practicable, before returning.” “He will make all the observations possible on the country, will, under all circumstances, keep his command well in hand, and not sacrifice this to any supposed advantages of rapid pursuit. Having accomplished this duty, Col. Devens will return to his present position, unless he shall see one on the Virginia side near the river which he can undoubtedly hold until reinforced, and one which can be successfully held against largely superior numbers. In which case he will hold on and report.”

In obedience to these orders Col. Devens crossed about midnight with five companies (instead of four), numbering about 300 men, and halted until daybreak in an open field near the bluffs bordering the shore. While there he was joined by Col. Lee with 100 men of the 20th Mass., who halted here to cover his return.

At daybreak he advanced about a mile towards Leesburg, and then discovered that the supposed camp did not exist. After examining the vicinity and discovering no traces of the enemy, he determined not to return at once, but at about half-past 6 A. M. sent a non-commissioned officer to report to Gen. Stone that he thought he could remain where he was until reinforced. At about seven o'clock a company of hostile riflemen were observed on the right, and a slight skirmish ensued. A company of cavalry being soon observed on the left, the skirmishers were drawn back to the woods, and, after waiting half an hour for [190] attack, the command was withdrawn to the position held by Col. Lee; but, after again scouting, the woods, Col. Devens returned to his advanced position. About eight o'clock the messenger returned from Gen. Stone with orders for Col. Devens to remain where he was, and that he would be reinforced. The messenger was again sent back to report the skirmish that had taken place. Col. Devens then threw out skirmishers and awaited reinforcements. At about ten o'clock the messenger again returned with the information that Col. Baker would soon arrive with his brigade and take command. Between nine and eleven Col. Devens was joined by Lieut.-Col. Learned with the remainder of the 15th, bringing up his command to 28 officers and 625 men.

About midday Col. Devens learned that the enemy were gathering on his left, and about half-past 12 or one he was strongly attacked; and as he was in great danger of being outflanked, and no reinforcements had arrived, at about a quarter-past two he fell back to the bluff, where he found Col. Baker, who directed him to take the right of the position he proposed to occupy; the centre and left being composed of about 300 men of the 20th Mass., under Col. Lee, and a battalion of the California regiment about 600 strong. Two howitzers and a 6-pounder were also in line.

At about three o'clock the enemy attacked in force, the weight of his attack being on our centre and left. At about four our artillery was silenced, and Col. Devens was ordered to send two of his companies to support the left of our line; shortly after he learned that Col. Baker had been killed. Col. Coggswell then assumed command, and, after a vain attempt to cut his way through to Edward's Ferry, was obliged to give the order to retreat to the river-bank and direct the men to save themselves as best they could.

I have gone thus much into detail because at the time I was much criticised and blamed for this unfortunate affair, while I was in no sense responsible for it.

Early in 1862 it was determined to attempt the reopening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as far eastward from Cumberland as circumstances would justify.

Gen. F. W. Lander was ordered to cover this operation from Cumberland towards Hancock, and on the 5th of Jan. reached Hancock en route to his destination. He found Jackson on the [191] opposite bank of the Potomac, tearing up rails, etc. Shortly after his arrival Lander was summoned by Jackson to surrender; this, of course, was a mere act of bravado, for it is not probable that Jackson had the slightest intention of crossing the river. The enemy fired a few shells into Hancock, doing little or no damage. Gen. Banks sent reinforcements to Hancock under Gen. Williams, who remained in that vicinity for some time. Jackson now moved towards Bloomery Gap and Romney, whither Lander was ordered to go. The force at Romney being insufficient to hold the place and its communications, Lander was instructed to fall back to the mouth of Patterson's creek, where he awaited the arrival of reinforcements now on the way to him.

Finding it difficult to procure supplies, and not venturing to attack Lander in his position, Jackson fell back from Romney to Unger's Store with the mass of his force about the 23d of Jan. About the 5th of Feb. Lander obliged him to evacuate Romney entirely.

Lander now moved his headquarters to the Paw Paw Tunnel, from which position he covered the reconstruction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which was reopened from the west to Hancock on the 14th of Feb. On the 13th he made a very dashing attack upon a party of the enemy at Bloomery Gap, taking several prisoners and dispersing the rest.

Notwithstanding the severe illness from which he suffered, Lander remained at Paw Paw, covering the railroad and keeping the country — clear of the enemy, until the 28th of Feb., when he was ordered to move to Bunker Hill to co-operate with Gen. Banks, then at Charlestown, covering, the rebuilding of the rail-road as he advanced. While engaged in preparing to execute this order his disease assumed a more violent form, and on the 2d of March this gallant officer breathed his last. On some occasions during this brief campaign I was obliged to check Lander rather abruptly for attempting to assume control over troops not under his command, and for endeavoring to initiate some very rash movements when the great risk could not be counterbalanced by the very faint chances of success. These errors arose partly from inexperience, and also, no doubt, from the effects of the malady which so soon terminated his life.

These occurrences did not change my feeling towards him, and I doubt whether they influenced his for me. [192]

I had often observed to the President and to members of the cabinet that the reconstruction of this railway could not be under-taken until we were in a condition to fight a battle to secure it. I regarded the possession of Winchester and Strasburg as necessary to cover the railway in the rear, and it was not till the month of February that I felt prepared to accomplish this very desirable but not vital purpose.

The whole of Banks's division and two brigades of Sedgwick's division were thrown across the river at Harper's Ferry, leaving one brigade of Sedgwick's division to observe and guard the Potomac from Great Falls to the mouth of the Monocacy. A sufficient number of troops of all arms were held in readiness in the vicinity of Washington, either to march via Leesburg or to move by rail to Harper's Ferry, should this become necessary in carrying out the objects in view.

The subjoined Notes from a communication subsequently addressed to the War Department will sufficiently explain the conduct of these operations:


When I started for Harper's Ferry I plainly stated to the President and Secretary of War that the chief object of the operation would be to open the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad by crossing the river in force at Harper's Ferry; that I had collected the material for making a permanent bridge by means of canal-boats; that, from the nature of the river, it was doubtful whether such a bridge could be constructed; that if it could not I would at least occupy the ground in front of Harper's Ferry, in order to cover the rebuilding of the railroad bridge; and finally, when the communications were perfectly secure, move on Winchester.

When I arrived at the place I found the bateau bridge nearly completed; the holding-ground proved better than had been anticipated; the weather was favorable, there being no wind. I at once crossed over the two brigades which had arrived, and took steps to hurry up the other two, belonging respectively to Banks's and Sedgwick's divisions. The difficulty of crossing supplies had not then become apparent. That night I telegraphed for a regiment of regular cavalry and four batteries of heavy artillery to come up the next day (Thursday), besides directing Keyes's division of infantry to be moved up on Friday.

Next morning the attempt was made to pass the canal-boats [193] through the lift-lock, in order to commence at once the construction of a permanent bridge. It was then found for the first time that the lock was too small to permit the passage of the boats, it having been built for a class of boats running on the Shenandoah canal, and too narrow by some four or six inches for the canal-boats. The lift-locks, above and below, are all large enough for the ordinary boats. I had seen them at Edward's Ferry thus used. It had always been represented to the engineers by the military railroad employees and others that the lock was large enough, and, the difference being too small to be detected by the eye, no one had thought of measuring it or suspected any difficulty. I thus suddenly found myself unable to build the permanent bridge. A violent gale had arisen, which threatened the safety of our only means of communication; the narrow approach to the bridge was so crowded and clogged with wagons that it was very clear that, under existing circumstances, nothing more could be done than to cross over the baggage and supplies of the two brigades. Of these, instead of being able to cross both during the morning, the last arrived only in time to go over just before dark. It was evident that the troops under orders would only be in the way, should they arrive, and that it would not be possible to subsist them for a rapid march on Winchester. It was therefore deemed necessary to countermand the order, content ourselves with covering the reopening of the railroad for the present, and in the meantime use every exertion to establish, as promptly as possible, depots of forage and subsistence on the Virginia side to supply the troops and enable them to move on Winchester independently of the bridge. The next day (Friday) I sent a strong reconnoissance to Charlestown, and, under its protection, went there myself. I then determined to hold that place, and to move the troops composing Lander's and Williams's commands at once on Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, thus effectually covering the reconstruction of the railroad.

Having done this, and taken all the steps in my power to insure the rapid transmission of supplies over the river, I returned to this city, well satisfied with what had been accomplished. While up the river I learned that the President was dissatisfied with the state of affairs; but, on my return here, understood from the Secretary of War that upon learning the whole state of the case the President was fully satisfied. I contented myself, therefore, with giving to the secretary a brief statement, about as I have written it here; he did not even require that much of me. He was busy; I troubled him as little as possible, and immediately went to work at other important affairs.

The design aimed at was entirely accomplished, and the [194] railroad was in running order before I started for the Peninsula. As a demonstration against his left flank this movement had much to do with the enemy's evacuation of his position at Manassas on the 8th and 9th of March; and I should state that I made the movement unwillingly, because I anticipated precisely that effect, and did not wish them to move from Manassas until I had fairly commenced the movement to the lower Chesapeake. But the pressure was so strong that I could not resist it; and this was no doubt the best and easiest way to force the navigation of the lower Potomac, which the administration laid so much stress upon. They had neither the courage nor the military insight to understand the effect of the plan I desired to carry out.

Immediately upon my return from Harper's Ferry I called upon the secretary and handed him the memorandum referred to in the “Notes” just given, expressing a desire to explain the matter personally to the President. The secretary said that the President now understood the whole affair, but that he would hand him my memorandum. He told me, a day or two afterwards, that he had done so, and that the President was entirely satisfied with my conduct, and desired me not to mention the subject to the President. I was foolish enough to believe him, and acted accordingly. The following telegrams will aid in giving the true state of the case:

Washington, Feb. 28, 1862.
Gen. McClellan:
What do you propose to do with the troops that have crossed the Potomac?

E. M. Stanton, Sec. of War.

To this I replied:

Sandy Hook, Feb. 28, 1862.
Hon. E. M. Stanton, Sec. of War:
Your despatch received. I propose to occupy Charlestown and Bunker Hill, so as to cover the rebuilding of the railway, while I throw over the supplies necessary for an advance in force. I have quite men enough to accomplish this. I could not at present supply more.

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

[195] On the same day I telegraphed to the President as follows:

It is impossible for many days to do more than supply the troops now here and at Charlestown. We could not supply a movement to Winchester for many days, and had I more troops here they would have been at a loss for food on the Virginia side. I know that I have acted wisely and that you will cheerfully agree with me when I explain. I have arranged to establish depots on that side, so we can do what we please. I have secured opening road.

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

On the same day I telegraphed to Gen. Lander as follows:

We hold Charlestown. As soon as possible please occupy Bunker Hill and communicate with Banks at Charlestown. Scout well towards Winchester. Push the repairs of the railway rapidly. Get free of this business. I want. you with me in another direction.

George B. McClellan. Maj.-Gen. Commanding.

It was a part of Mr. Stanton's policy — only too well carried out — to prevent frequent personal interviews between the President and myself; he was thus enabled to say one thing to the President and exactly the opposite to me. A few days later, on the 8th of March, the President sent for me at an early hour in the morning, about half-past 7, and I found him in his office. He appeared much concerned about something, and soon said that he wished to talk with me about “a very ugly matter.” I asked what it was; and, as he still hesitated, I said that the sooner and more directly such things were approached the better.

He then referred to the Harper's Ferry affair (the boats being too wide for the lift-locks, etc.), upon which I found that the secretary had deceived me when he said that the President was satisfied. I told him what had passed between the secretary and myself (as related above), at which he was much surprised. He told me that he had never heard of my memorandum or of any explanation on my part. I then gave him my statement of the matter, with which he expressed himself entirely satisfied.

He then adverted to the more serious — or ugly — matter, and now the effects of the intrigues by which he had been surrounded became apparent. He said that it had been represented [196] to him (and he certainly conveyed to me the distinct impression that he regarded these representations as well founded) that my plan of campaign (which was to leave Washington under the protection of a sufficient garrison, its numerous well-built and well-armed fortifications, and the command of Banks, then in the Shenandoah Valley, and to throw the whole active army suddenly by water from Annapolis and Alexandria to the forts on James river, and thence by the shortest route upon Richmond) was conceived with the traitorous intent of removing its defenders from Washington, and thus giving over to the enemy the capital and the government, thus left defence-less.

It is difficult to understand that a man of Mr. Lincoln's intelligence could give ear to such abominable nonsense. I was seated when he said this, concluding with the remark that it did look to him much like treason. Upon this I arose, and, in a manner perhaps not altogether decorous towards the chief magistrate, desired that he should retract the expression, telling him that I could permit no one to couple the word treason with my name. He was much agitated, and at once disclaimed any idea of considering me a traitor, and said that he merely repeated what others had said, and that he did not believe a word of it. I suggested caution in the use of language, and again said that I would permit no doubt to be thrown upon my intentions; whereupon he again apologized and disclaimed any purpose of impugning my motives.

I then informed him that I had called a meeting of the generals of division for that day with reference to the proposed attack upon the enemy's Potomac batteries, and suggested that my plan should be laid before them in order that he might be satisfied. This was done, and I heard no more of treason in that connection.

Before leaving this subject I will call attention to the fact that my official report contained the statement that the secretary had assured me of the President's approval of my action when I returned from the upper Potomac, and that this assertion was never denied. Moreover, no other statement made in the memorandum was ever denied or objected to either by the President or the secretary; and that memorandum shows very clearly that there was no ground of dissatisfaction with my conduct, but that [197] I did precisely what I told them I should do under given circumstances.

In my official report I have given all necessary information as to the reasons which prevented an attack upon the enemy's batteries on the Potomac. I will here repeat only that careful reconnoissances and a full consideration of the matter led to the inevitable conclusion that although we might, at a greater or less sacrifice of life, carry and destroy any particular battery, we could prevent the construction of permanent batteries and the employment of rifled field-batteries only by a general movement of the army to drive the enemy entirely behind the Rappahan-neck and Rapidan, after a general action; and that it would then be necessary to hold the lines of those rivers in force or continue the campaign by the overland route.

I did not regard the inconvenience resulting from the presence of the enemy's batteries on the Potomac as sufficiently great to justify the direct efforts necessary to dislodge them, especially since it was absolutely certain that they would evacuate all their positions as soon as they became aware of the movement to the James and York rivers.

It was therefore with the greatest reluctance that I made the arrangements required to carry out the positive orders of the government, and it was with great satisfaction that I found myself relieved from the necessity of making what I knew to be a false and unnecessary movement.

When the enemy abandoned his position on the 8th and 9th of March, the roads were still in such a condition as to make the proposed movement upon the batteries impracticable. Before this time I had strongly and repeatedly urged upon the Navy Department the propriety of hastening the completion of the Monitor, that she might be sent to the Potomac to try her hand upon the batteries on its banks. As the reason for this I urged that it was well to try her qualities under fire, when necessary repairs and alterations could readily be made, rather than to send her immediately to New Orleans, as had been intended. It is a little singular that the effect of my urgency was to hasten her completion, so that she arrived in Hampton Roads in season to check the operations of the Merrimac.

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