- Evacuation of Manassas -- Army corps -- McClellan removed from chief command -- President's military orders -- plan of advance on Richmond -- Derangement of all plans by the administration.
The organization of army corps directed by the President's order of March 8, 1862, was the work of the President and Secretary of War, probably urged by McDowell. It was issued without consulting me and against my judgment, for from the beginning it had been my intention to postpone the formation of army corps until service in the field had indicated what general officers were best fitted to exercise those most important commands. The mistakes of an incompetent division commander may be rectified, but those of a corps commander are likely to be fatal. The President designated the senior general officers to command the corps. The day after this order was issued we received information, that seemed reliable, of the evacuation of Manassas. The President and Secretary were with me at the time, and fully approved my determination of going to Porter's headquarters, where I could receive information more readily and be better prepared to act as circumstances might require, whether to move in pursuit or not. I at once sent Averill with a brigade of cavalry to verify the news and do what he could against the enemy's rear-guard; but Gen. Johnston had, as usual, masked his retreat so well that nothing could be effected. In the course of the evening I determined to move the whole army forward, partly with the hope that I might be able to take advantage of some accident and bring Johnston to battle under favorable circumstances, but also to break up the camps, give the troops a little experience in marching and bivouac before finally leaving the old base of supplies, to test the transportation arrangements and get rid of impedimenta, and thus prepare things for the movement to the Peninsula. It also seemed probable that this advance, in connection with the recent move on Harper's Ferry and Charleston, would tend to make Johnston  more uncertain as to my real intentions. In the course of the evening I telegraphed to the Secretary of War:
In the arrangements for the advance of to-morrow it is impossible to carry into effect the arrangements for the formation of army corps. I am obliged to take groups as I find them, and to move them by divisions. I respectfully ask a suspension of the order directing it until the present movement be over.To this the secretary made the following singular reply:
I think it is the duty of every officer to obey the President's orders. Nor can I see any reason why you should not obey them in the present instance; I must therefore decline to suspend them.To this I at once replied at one A. M.:
You have entirely misunderstood me, and the idea I intended to convey was simply that I could not, under the pressure of the new aspect of affairs, immediately carry out the President's order as to the formation of army corps. It is absolutely necessary that I should at once move divisions as they stand. If you require me to suspend movements until army corps can be formed, I will do so, but I regard it as a military necessity that the divisions should move to the front at once without waiting for the formation of army corps. If it is your order to wait until the corps can be formed, I will, of course, wait. I will comply with the President's order as soon as possible. I intended to do so to-morrow, but circumstances have changed. If you desire it I will at once countermand all the orders I have given for an advance until the formation of army corps is completed. I have only to add that the order I have given to-night to advance early in the morning was dictated solely by the present condition of affairs. If the leave to suspend the order be granted there will be no unreasonable delay in the formation of army corps. I await your reply here, that, if you so direct, I may countermand my orders at once. Please reply at once.To this the secretary replied:
I do not understand the President's order as restraining you from any military movement, by divisions or otherwise, that circumstances in your judgment may render expedient, and I certainly do not wish to delay or change any movement whatever  that you have made or desire to make. I only wish to avoid giving any sanction to a suspension of a policy which the President has ordered to be pursued; but if you think that the terms of the order as it stands would operate to retard or in any way restrain movements that circumstances require to be made before the army corps are formed, I will assume the responsibility of suspending the order for that purpose, and authorize you to make any movement, by division or otherwise, to your own judgment, without stopping to form the army corps. My desire is that you should exercise every power that you think present circumstances require to be exercised without delay, but I want that you and I should not seem to be desirous of opposing any order of the President without necessity. I say, therefore, move just as you think best now, and let the other matter stand until it can be done without impeding movements.To this I replied at 2.40 A. M.:
Your reply received. The troops are in motion. I thank you for your despatch: it relieves me much, and you will be convinced that I have not asked too much of you.It was only by throwing the responsibility of delay upon the secretary that he withdrew his quite unnecessary opposition. My order for the formation of the corps was given on the 13th, as soon as circumstances permitted. McDowell was very anxious to have the reserve artillery, the cavalry, and the regular infantry attached to his corps; fortunately, I kept them by themselves, or I should, no doubt, have lost them as well as McDowell's own corps. On the 10th I reached Fairfax Court-House and established headquarters there. It was now evident, from the information received, that it would be impossible to reach the enemy within a reasonable distance from Washington. The various divisions were therefore halted where they stood, at convenient distances from headquarters, and the preparations pushed for embarking for the Peninsula. I threw forward Sumner with two divisions and Stoneman with a cavalry command to proceed as far as the Rapidan and Rappahannock, to secure the crossings and still further deceive the enemy as to my intentions. While here I learned through the public newspapers that I was displaced in the command of the United States armies. It may be well to state that no one in authority had ever expressed  to me the slightest disapprobation of my action in that capacity, nor had I received any information of a purpose to change my position.
The intelligence took me entirely by surprise, and the order proved to be one of the steps taken to tie my hands in order to secure the failure of the approaching campaign. Elsewhere I state the effect of this change in altering the condition of affairs, and breaking that unity of action which it was my purpose to enforce in the operations of the different armies in the field, as well as its effect upon operations in Virginia. Though unaware of the President's intention to remove me from the position of general-in-chief, I cheerfully acceded to the disposition he saw fit to make of my services, and so informed him in a note on the 12th of March:
Unofficial.While at Fairfax Court-House an order arrived assigning Gen. Wadsworth to the command of Washington. The secretary had spoken to me on the subject some days before, whereupon I objected to the selection for the reason that Gen. Wadsworth was not a soldier by training. I said that one of the very best soldiers in the army was necessary for the command of Washington, which was next in importance to the command of the Army of the Potomac--an officer fully posted in all the details of the profession; and that, much as I should dislike sparing him, I would give up Franklin for the place. The secretary replied that Wadsworth had been selected because it was necessary, for political reasons, to conciliate the agricultural interests of New York, and that it was useless to discuss the matter, because it would in no event be changed. When Gen. Wadsworth parted from me at Fairfax he professed the greatest devotion and friendship for me, but at once became an enemy, probably because Stanton informed him of the objections I had made to his appointment, without giving him the real grounds of my opposition. My memorandum of Aug. 2, 1861, shows that even then I regarded Virginia as the most important portion of the immense theatre of operations. Gen. Scott differed from me, and thought the valley of the Mississippi more vital. While fully recognizing the importance and necessity of operations in the valley of the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, and of coast expeditions,  I always held the eastern line to be the true theatre of decisive operations. If I had been retained in chief command, untrammelled as to time and means, I should, in the early spring of 1862, have pushed with all energy the operations against Wilmington, Charleston, and New Orleans, as well as in the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland valleys, and against the Knoxville and Lynchburg Railroad, via Cumberland Gap, and early in May have thrown the Army of the Potomac to the James river with a strength of over 150,000 for duty. I intended to transport by water to Urbana, on the lower Rappahannock, four divisions of infantry with their batteries, the regular infantry, one bridge-train, a few squadrons of cavalry, and a small number of wagons; with them to push by a forced march to the vicinity of West Point, and then cross the Mattapony and Pamunkey rivers, thus compelling the evacuation of Yorktown, and perhaps cutting off Magruder's force in the Peninsula. Meanwhile the reserve artillery, the remaining cavalry, bridge-trains, and necessary wagons were to be concentrated in the vicinity of Point Lookout, and, simultaneously with the landing at Urbana, ferried across the Potomac on North river ferry-boats, marched to the Rappahannock — the movement covered by an infantry force near Heathsville — then ferried over the Rappahannock and moved rapidly to unite with the force first landed. Prior to the evacuation of Yorktown the remaining portions of the army would have been landed at Urbana, and, subsequently to that, at West Point or on the James, as circumstances required. As soon as the leading divisions of infantry crossed the Pamunkey they would have moved on Richmond, covered by cavalry on both flanks. My letters of Feb. 3 and March 19, 1862, to the Secretary of War, show that, under certain circumstances, I contemplated crossing the James river and attacking Richmond from the south. The fears of the administration and their inability to comprehend the merits of the scheme, or else the determination that I should not succeed in the approaching campaign, induced them to prohibit me from carrying out the Urbana movement. They gave me the choice between the direct overland route via Manassas, and the route with Fort Monroe as a base. Of course I  selected the latter. My report gives all the most important correspondence on this subject, and the arguments I used in support of the plan of campaign which commended itself to my judgment. Let me here call attention to the President's orders of Jan. 27 and Jan. 31, 1862, and his letter to me of Feb. 3, answered in mine of the same day to the Secretary of War:
The order of Jan. 31, 1862, was as follows:
I asked his excellency whether this order was to be regarded as final, or whether I could be permitted to submit in writing my  objections to his plan and my reasons for preferring my own. Permission was accorded, and I therefore prepared the letter to the Secretary of War which is given below. Before this had been submitted to the President he addressed me the following not:
These questions were substantially answered by the following letter of the same date to the Secretary of War:
This letter must have produced some effect upon the mind of  the President, since the execution of his order was not required, although it was not revoked as formally as it had been issued. Many verbal conferences ensued, in which, among other things, it was determined to collect as many canal-boats as possible, with a view to employ them largely in the transportation of the army to the lower Chesapeake. The idea was at one time entertained by the President to use them in forming a bridge across the Potomac near Liverpool Point, in order to throw the army over at that point; but this was subsequently abandoned. It was also found by experience that it would require much time to prepare the canal-boats for use in transportation to the extent that had been anticipated. Finally, on the 27th of Feb., 1862, the Secretary of War, by the authority of the President, instructed Mr. John Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War, to procure at once the necessary steamers and sailing craft to transport the Army of the Potomac to its new field of operations. The following extract from the report of Mr. Tucker, dated April 5, will show the nature and progress of this well-executed service:
The same order which confined my command to the Department  of the Potomac placed Buell under Halleck, and created the Mountain Department, extending from the western limits of the Department of the Potomac to the eastern boundary of Halleck's command. The Department of the Potomac then included all that part of Virginia east of the Alleghanies and north of the James river, with the exception of Fortress Monroe and the country within sixty miles thereof; also the District of Columbia and the States of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. During the latter part of March, as I have already stated, Fortress Monroe and its dependencies were added to my command (but the order was countermanded on the 3d of April). Thus, when about to start for the Peninsula it was my duty to provide for the security of Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, and all operations in that region were under my direction. It was very clear to me that the enemy did not abandon their positions on the Potomac and near Manassas without some good reason. I knew that they could not intend to return immediately, that they would never undertake the assault of the works around Washington, and that from the moment the operations by the lower Chesapeake were developed they would be tied down to the vicinity of Richmond so long as the Army of the Potomac remained anywhere near the James river. All they could attempt would be a raid in the Shenandoah. I therefore1