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Chapter 29:

  • The Army at Harrison's Bar
  • -- Indecision at Washington -- the Harrison's Bar letter -- Army ordered home -- Protests of McClellan -- on the bank of the James river the fate of the Union should be decided -- transportation not provided -- withdrawal of the Army -- transfer to front of Washington.

When the troops reached the James the first want of the men was something to eat and drink, and the next a bath in the river. As I rode among the men they would cry to me for their supper, and upon my assuring them that they should have it they would give their usual cheers and be perfectly content. For two or three days after we reached Harrison's Bar the banks of the river were crowded all day long with the men bathing.

It should be understood that in time of action every army reduces itself into two of unequal strength--one, the fighting men, who stick by their colors as long as life and strength last, and are ever ready to meet the enemy; the other consisting of the weaker men, and those prone to straggle, and those not too fond of unnecessary combat. The better the discipline of the army, the larger the first category, and vice versa. It must be confessed that the contingent of stragglers was pretty large on our arrival at the James, but after a day or two all had rejoined their colors and were ready for work again.

A very few days sufficed to give the men the necessary rest, and the army was then in condition to make any movement justified by its numbers, and was in an admirable position for an offensive movement. It was at last upon its true line of operations, which I had been unable to adopt at an earlier day in consequence of the Secretary of War's peremptory order of the 18th of May requiring the right wing to be extended to the north of Richmond in order to establish communication with Gen. McDowell. Gen. McDowell was then under orders to advance from Fredericksburg, but never came, because, in spite of his earnest protest, these orders were countermanded from [482] Washington, and he was sent upon a fruitless expedition towards the Shenandoah instead of being permitted to join me, as he could have done, at the time of the affair of Hanover Court-House.

I urged in vain that the Army of the Potomac should remain on the line of the James, and that it should resume the offensive as soon as reinforced to the full extent of the means in possession of the government. Had the Army of the Potomac been permitted to remain on the line of the James I would have crossed to the south bank of that river, and, while engaging Lee's attention in front of Malvern, have made a rapid movement in force on Petersburg, having gained which I would have operated against Richmond and its communications from the west, having already gained those from the south.

Subsequent events proved that Lee did not move northward from Richmond with his army until assured that the Army of the Potomac was actually on its way to Fort Monroe, and they also found that, so long as the Army of the Potomac was on the James, Washington and Maryland would have been entirely safe under the protection of the fortifications and a comparatively small part of the troops then in that vicinity; so that Burnside's troops and a large part of the Union Army of Virginia might, with entire propriety, have been sent by water to join the army under my command, which — with detachments from the West--could easily have been brought up to more than 100,000 men disposable on the actual field of battle.

In spite of my most pressing and oft-repeated entreaties, the order was insisted upon for the abandonment of the Peninsula line and the return of the Army of the Potomac to Washington in order to support Gen. Pope, who was in no danger so long as the Army of the Potomac remained on the James. With a heavy heart I relinquished the position gained at the cost of so much time and blood.

As an evidence of my good faith in opposing this movement it should be mentioned that Gen. Halleck had assured me, verbally and in writing, that I was to command all the troops in front of Washington, including those of Gens. Burnside and Pope — a promise which was not carried into effect.

On the 1st of July I received the following from the President: [483]

It is impossible to reinforce you for your present emergency. If we had a million of men we could not get them to give you in time. We have not the men to send. If you are not strong enough to face the enemy you must find a place of security and wait, rest, and repair.

Maintain your ground if you can, but save the army at all events, even if you fall back to Fort Monroe. We still have strength enough in the country, and will bring it out.

In a despatch from the President to me on the 2d of July he says:

If you think you are not strong enough to take Richmond just now, I do not ask you to. Try just now to save the army material and personnel, and I will strengthen it for the offensive again as fast as I can.

The governors of eighteen (18) States offer me a new levy of 300,000, which I accept.

On the 2d of July the following was received from Gen. Barnard:


headquarters, July 2, 1862.
dear general: It seems to me the only salvation is for this army to be ready promptly to reassume the offensive.

For this we must immediately push our forces further forward, or we are bagged. Besides being able to shell us out, the enemy will entrench us in, and, shutting us up here with a small force, be off for Washington.

The fresh troops (how many?) now here or on the river ought to enable us to push out at once and to assume an offensive as soon as our old army can be rested.

But we need large reinforcements. The state of affairs is concealed in Washington to hide their own blunders, and the country will not respond to the crisis unless it is known. We need 200,000 more men to fill up the ranks and form new regiments.

A large part of Halleck's force, all that can be withdrawn, should come from the West.

There is no use in writing. Should you not send at once an officer who will not be afraid to speak? And though such a messenger does not open his lips except to Lincoln and Stanton, the public will soon know that there is something concealed. It should be done by all means.

To-day we must get ourselves enough out to save being [484] shut in. There is no use in entrenching a line of no real utility, and what Duane can do to-day will only wear out his men for nothing.

It is troops alone that can help us to-day. By to-morrow we will be able to know where to entrench.

We must have fresh troops immediately in large numbers, and I would, if necessary, abandon Norfolk and New Berne to get them, and all the useless coast of South Carolina and Georgia, holding only Fort Pulaski.

Pensacola is of no use, but I suppose may be held with few troops.

Yours, etc.,

On the 3d of July the following was received from the President:

... Yours of 5.30 yesterday is just received. I am satisfied that yourself, officers, and men have done the best you could. All accounts say better fighting was never done. Ten thousand thanks for it. . . .

On the 4th I sent the following to the President:

July 4, 1862.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch of the 2d instant.

I shall make a stand at this place, and endeavor to give my men the repose they so much require.

After sending my communication on Tuesday the enemy attacked the left of our lines, and a fierce battle ensued, lasting until night; they were repulsed with great slaughter. Had their attack succeeded, the consequences would have been disastrous in the extreme. This closed the hard fighting which had continued from the afternoon of the 26th ultimo, in a daily series of engagements wholly unparalleled on this continent for determination and slaughter on both sides.

The mutual loss in killed and wounded is enormous; that of the enemy certainly greatest. On Tuesday morning, the 1st, our army commenced its movement from Haxall's to this point, our line of defence there being too extended to be maintained by our weakened forces. Our train was immense, and about four P. M. on the 2d a heavy storm of rain began, which continued during the entire day and until the forenoon of yesterday.

The roads became horrible. Troops, artillery, and wagons moved on steadily, and our whole army, men and material. was finally brought safe into this camp. [485]

The last of the wagons reached here at noon yesterday. The exhaustion was very great, but the army preserved its morale, and would have repelled any attack which the enemy was in condition to make.

We now occupy a line of heights about two miles from the James, a plain extending from there to the river; our front is about three miles long. These heights command our whole position, and must be maintained. The gunboats can render valuable support upon both flanks. If the enemy attack us in front we must hold our ground as we best may and at whatever cost.

Our positions can be carried only by overwhelming numbers. The spirit of the army is excellent; stragglers are finding their regiments, and the soldiers exhibit the best results of discipline. Our position is by no means impregnable, especially as a morass extends on this side of the high ground from our centre to the James on our right. The enemy may attack in vast numbers, and if so our front will be the scene of a desperate battle, which, if lost, will be decisive. Our army is fearfully weakened by killed, wounded, and prisoners.

I cannot now approximate to any statement of our losses, but we were not beaten in any conflict.

The enemy were unable, by their utmost efforts, to drive us from any field. Never did such a change of base, involving a retrograde movement, and under incessant attacks from a most determined and vastly more numerous foe, partake so little of disorder. We have lost no guns except 25 on the field of battle, 21 of which were lost by the giving way of McCall's division under the onset of superior numbers.

Our communications by the James river are not secure. There are points where the enemy can establish themselves with cannon or musketry and command the river, and where it is not certain that our gunboats can drive them out. In case of this, or in case our front is broken, I will still make every effort to preserve at least the personnel of the army; and the events of the last few days leave no question that the troops will do all that their country can ask. Send such reinforcements as you can; I will do what I can. We are shipping our wounded and sick, and landing supplies. The Navy Department should co-operate with us to the extent of its resources. Com. Rodgers is doing all in his power in the kindest and most efficient manner.

When all the circumstances of the case are known it will be acknowledged by all competent judges that the movement just completed by this army is unparalleled in the annals of war. Under the most difficult circumstances we have preserved our trains, our guns, our material, and, above all, our honor.

To which I received the following reply from the President: [486]

A thousand thanks for the relief your two despatches of twelve and one P. M. yesterday gave me. Be assured the heroism and skill of yourself, officers, and men is and for ever will be appreciated.

If you can hold your present position we shall have the enemy yet.

The following letter was received from his Excellency the President:

July 4.
I understand your position, as stated in your letter, and by Gen. Marcy. To reinforce you so as to enable you to resume the offensive within a month, or even six weeks, is impossible. In addition to that arrived and now arriving from the Potomac (about 10,000 I suppose), and about 10,000 I hope you will have from Burnside very soon, and about 5,000 from Hunter a little later, I do not see how I can send you another man within a month. Under these circumstances the defensive, for the present, must be your only care. Save the army first, where you are if you can, and, secondly, by removal if you must. You, on the ground, must be the judge as to which you will attempt, and of the means for effecting it. I but give it as my opinion that, with the aid of the gunboats and the reinforcements mentioned above, you can hold your present position, provided, and so long as, you can keep the James river open below you. If you are not tolerably confident you can keep the James river open, you had better remove as soon as possible. I do not remember that you have expressed any apprehension as to the danger of having your communication cut on the river below you, yet I do not suppose it can have escaped your attention.

P. S. If at any time you feel able to take the offensive, you are not restrained from doing so.

The following telegram was sent on the 7th to the President:

As boat is starting, I have only time to acknowledge receipt of despatch by Gen. Marcy. Enemy have not attacked. My position is very strong, and daily becoming more so. If not attacked to-day I shall laugh at them. I have been anxious about my communications. Had long consultation about it with Flag-Officer Goldsborough last night; he is confident he can keep river open. He should have all gunboats possible. Will see him again this morning. My men in splendid spirits, and anxious to try it again.

Alarm yourself as little as possible about me, and don't lose confidence in this army.


While general-in-chief, and directing the operations of all our armies in the field, I had become deeply impressed with the importance of adopting and carrying out certain views regarding the conduct of the war which, in my judgment, were essential to its objects and its success.

During an active campaign of three months in the enemy's country these were so fully confirmed that I conceived it a duty, in the critical position we then occupied, not to withhold a candid expression of the more important of these views from the commander-in-chief, whom the Constitution places at the head of the armies and navies, as well as of the government, of the nation.

Mr. Lincoln visited me at Harrison's Bar. I handed him myself, on board of the steamer in which he came, the letter of July 7, 1862. He read it in my presence, but made no comments upon it, merely saying, when he had finished it, that he was obliged to me for it, or words to that effect. I do not think that he alluded further to it during his visit, or at any time after that.

The Harrison's Bar letter.

headquarters, Army of the Potomac, camp near Harrison's Landing, Va., July 7, 1862.
Mr. President: You have been fully informed that the rebel army is in the front, with the purpose of overwhelming us by attacking our positions or reducing us by blocking our river communications. I cannot but regard our condition as critical, and I earnestly desire, in view of possible contingencies, to lay before your excellency, for your private consideration, my general views concerning the existing state of the rebellion, although they do not strictly relate to the situation of this army or strictly come within the scope of my official duties. These views amount to convictions, and are deeply impressed upon my mind and heart. Our cause must never be abandoned; it is the cause of free institutions and self-government. The Constitution and the Union must be preserved, whatever may be the cost in time, treasure, and blood. If secession is successful other dissolutions are clearly to be seen in the future. Let neither military disaster, political faction, nor foreign war shake your settled purpose to enforce the equal operation of the laws of the United States upon the people of every State.

The time has come when the government must determine [488] upon a civil and military policy covering the whole ground of our national trouble.

The responsibility of determining, declaring, and supporting such civil and military policy, and of directing the whole course of national affairs in regard to the rebellion, must now be assumed and exercised by you, or our cause will be lost. The Constitution gives you power sufficient even for the present terrible exigency.

This rebellion has assumed the character of war; as such it should be regarded, and it should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian civilization. It should not be a war looking to the subjugation of the people of any State in any event. It should not be at all a war upon population, but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of States, or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment. In prosecuting the war all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected, subject only to the necessity of military operations. All private property taken for military use should be paid or receipted for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited, and offensive demeanor by the military towards citizens promptly rebuked. Military arrests should not be tolerated, except in places where active hostilities exist, and oaths not required by enactments constitutionally made should be neither demanded nor received. Military government should be confined to the preservation of public order and the protection of political rights. Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master, except for repressing disorder, as in other cases. Slaves contraband under the act of Congress, seeking military protection, should receive it. The right of the government to appropriate permanently to its own service claims to slave labor should be asserted, and the right of the owner to compensation therefor should be recognized.

This principle might be extended, upon grounds of military necessity and security, to all the slaves within a particular State, thus working manumission in such State; and in Missouri, perhaps in Western Virginia also, and possibly even in Maryland, the expediency of such a measure is only a question of time.

A system of policy thus constitutional and conservative, and pervaded by the influences of Christianity and freedom, would receive the support of almost all truly loyal men, would deeply impress the rebel masses and all foreign nations, and it might be humbly hoped that it would commend itself to the favor of the Almighty.

Unless the principles governing the future conduct of our struggle shall be made known and approved, the effort to obtain requisite forces will be almost hopeless. A declaration of radical [489] views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present armies. The policy of the government must be supported by concentrations of military power. The national forces should not be dispersed in expeditions, posts of occupation, and numerous armies, but should be mainly collected into masses and brought to bear upon the armies of the Confederate States. Those armies thoroughly defeated, the political structure which they support would soon cease to exist.

In carrying out any system of policy which you may form you will require a commander-in-chief of the army, one who possesses your confidence, understands your views, and who is competent to execute your orders by directing the military forces of the nation to the accomplishment of the objects by you proposed. I do not ask that place for myself. I am willing to serve you in such position as you may assign me, and I will do so as faithfully as ever subordinate served superior.

I may be on the brink of eternity; and as I hope forgiveness from my Maker, I have written this letter with sincerity towards you and from love for my country.1

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Geo. B. Mcclellan, Maj.-Gen. Commanding. His Excellency A. Lincoln, President.


I telegraphed the President on the 11th: “We are very strong here now, so far as defensive is concerned. Hope you will soon make us strong enough to advance and try it again. All in fine spirits.”

Telegrams were sent to the President on the 12th, 17th, and 18th:

July 12th.
I am more and more convinced that this army ought not to be withdrawn from here, but promptly reinforced and thrown again upon Richmond. If we have a little more than half a chance we can take it. I dread the effects of any retreat upon the morale of the men.

July 17th.
I have consulted fully with Gen. Burnside, and would commend to your favorable consideration the general's plan for bringing (7) seven additional regiments from North Carolina, by leaving New Berne to the care of the gunboats. It appears manifestly to be our policy to concentrate here everything we can possibly spare from less important points, to make sure of crushing the enemy at Richmond, which seems clearly to be the most important point in rebeldom. Nothing should be left to chance here. I would recommend that Gen. Burnside, with all his troops, be ordered to this army, to enable it to assume the offensive as soon as possible.

July 18th.
Am anxious to have determination of government, that no time may be lost in preparing for it. Hours are very precious now, and perfect unity of action necessary.

The following was telegraphed to Gen. Halleck on the 28th:

My opinion is more and more firm that here is the defence of Washington, and that I should be at once reinforced by all available troops to enable me to advance. Retreat would be disastrous to the army and the cause. I am confident of that.

On the 30th to Gen. Halleck:

I hope that it may soon be decided what is to be done by this army, and that the decision may be to reinforce it at once. We are losing much valuable time, and that at a moment when energy and decision are sadly needed.


About half an hour after midnight on the morning of Aug. 1 the enemy brought some light batteries to Coggins's Point and the Coles House, on the right bank of James river directly opposite Harrison's Landing, and opened a heavy fire upon our shipping and encampments. It was continued rapidly for about thirty minutes, when they were driven back by the fire of our guns.

To prevent another demonstration of this character, and to insure a debouch on the south bank of the James, it became necessary to occupy Coggins's Point, which was done on the 3d, and the enemy driven back towards Petersburg.

On the 1st of Aug. I received the following despatches from Gen. Halleck:

Washington, July 30, 1862, 8 P. M.
A despatch just received from Gen. Pope says that deserters report that the enemy is moving south of James river, and that the force in Richmond is very small. I suggest that he be pressed in that direction, so as to ascertain the facts of the case.

>Washington, July 30, 1862, 8 P. M.
In order to enable you to move in any direction it is necessary to relieve you of your sick. The surgeon-general has therefore been directed to make arrangements for them at other places, and the quartermaster-general to provide transportation. I hope you will send them away as quickly as possible, and advise me of their removal.

It is clear that the general-in-chief attached some weight to the report received from Gen. Pope, and I was justified in supposing that the order in regard to removing the sick contemplated an offensive movement rather than a retreat, as I had no other data than the telegrams just given from which to form an opinion as to the intentions of the government. The following telegram from him strengthened me in that belief:

Washington, July 31, 1862, 10 A. M.--Gen. Pope again telegraphs that the enemy is reported to be evacuating Richmond, and falling back on Danville and Lynchburg.

H. W. Halleck, Maj.-Gen.

In occupying Coggins's Point I was influenced by the necessity of possessing a secure debouch on the south of the James, in order to enable me to move on the communications of Richmond [492] in that direction, as well as to prevent a repetition of midnight cannonades.

To carry out Gen. Halleck's first order, of July 30, it was necessary first to gain possession of Malvern Hill, which was occupied by the enemy, apparently in some little force, and controlled the direct approach to Richmond. Its temporary occupation at least was equally necessary in the event of a movement upon Petersburg, or even the abandonment of the Peninsula. Gen. Hooker, with his own division and Pleasonton's cavalry, was therefore directed to gain possession of Malvern Hill on the night of the 2d of Aug.

He failed to do so on account of the incompetency of guides.

On the 4th Gen. Hooker was reinforced by Gen. Sedgmick's division, and, having obtained a knowledge of the roads, he succeeded in turning Malvern Hill and driving the enemy back towards Richmond.

The following is my report of this affair at the time:

Malvern Hill, Aug. 5, 1862, 1 P. M.
Gen. Hooker at 5.30 this morning attacked a very considerable force of infantry and artillery stationed at this place, and carried it handsomely, driving the enemy towards New Market, which is four miles distant, and where it is said they have a large force. We have captured 100 prisoners, killed and wounded several, with a loss on our part of only three killed and eleven wounded; among the latter two officers.

I shall probably remain here to-night, ready to act as circumstances may require after the return of my cavalry reconnoissances.

The mass of the enemy escaped under the cover of a dense fog; but our cavalry are still in pursuit, and I trust may succeed in capturing many more.

This is a very advantageous position to cover an advance on Richmond, and only fourteen and three-quarter miles distant; and I feel confident that, with reinforcements, I would march this army there in five days.

I this instant learn that several brigades of the enemy are four miles from here on the Quaker road, and I have taken steps. to prepare to meet them.

Gen. Hooker's dispositions were admirable, and his officers and men displayed their usual gallantry.

On the same day I telegraphed to Gen. Halleck:

Our troops have advanced twelve miles in one direction [493] and seventeen in another towards Richmond to-day. We have secured a strong position at Coggins's Point, opposite our quartermaster's depot, which will effectually prevent the rebels from using artillery hereafter against our camps.

I learn this evening that there is a force of 20,000 men about six miles back from this point, on the south bank of the river; what their object is I do not know, but will keep a sharp lookout on their movements.

I am sending off sick as rapidly as our transports will take them. I am also doing everything in my power to carry out your orders to push reconnoissances towards the rebel capital, and hope soon to find out whether the reports regarding the abandonment of that place are true.

To the despatch of one P. M., Aug. 5, the following answer was received Aug. 6:

I have no reinforcements to send you.

H. W. Halleck, Maj.-Gen.

And soon after the following, also from Gen. Halleck:
You will immediately send a regiment of cavalry and several batteries of artillery to Burnside's command at Acquia creek. It is reported that Jackson is moving north with a very large force.

On the 4th I had received Gen. Halleck's order of the 3d (which appears below), directing me to withdraw the army to Acquia, and on the same day sent an earnest protest against it.

A few hours before this Gen. Hooker had informed me that his cavalry pickets reported large bodies of the enemy advancing and driving them in, and that he would probably be attacked at daybreak. Under these circumstances I had determined to support him; but as I could not get the whole army in position until the next afternoon, I concluded, upon the receipt of the above telegram from the general-in-chief, to withdraw Gen. Hooker, that there might be the least possible delay in conforming to Gen. Halleck's orders. I therefore sent to Gen. Hooker:

. . . Under advices I have received from Washington, I think it necessary for you to abandon the position to-night, getting everything away before daylight.


Five batteries, with their horses and equipments complete, were embarked on the 7th and 8th. Simultaneously with Gen. Hooker's operations upon Malvern I despatched a cavalry force under Col. Averill towards Savage's Station to ascertain if the enemy were making any movements towards our left flank. He found a rebel cavalry regiment near the White Oak Swamp bridge, and completely routed it, pursuing well towards Savage's Station.

These important preliminary operations assisted my preparations for the removal of the army to Acquia creek, and the sending off our sick and supplies was pushed both day and night as rapidly as the means of transportation permitted.

On the subject of the withdrawal of the army from Harrison's Landing the following correspondence passed between the general-in-chief and myself while the reconnoissances towards Richmond were in progress.

On the 2d of Aug. I received the following from Gen. Halleck:

You have not answered my telegram [of July 30, 8 P. M.] about the removal of your sick. Remove them as rapidly as possible, and telegraph me when they will be out of your way. The President wishes an answer as early as possible.

To which I sent this reply:

August 3d, 11 P. M.
Your telegram of (2d) second is received. The answer [to despatch of July 30] was sent this morning. We have about 12,500 sick, of whom perhaps 4,000 might make easy marches. We have here the means to transport 1,200, and will embark to-morrow that number of the worst cases. With all the means at the disposal of the medical director the remainder could be shipped in from seven to ten days. It is impossible for me to decide what cases to send off, unless I know what is to be done with this army.

Were the disastrous measures of a retreat adopted all the sick who cannot march and fight should be despatched by mater. Should the army advance many of the sick could be of service at the depots. If it is to remain here any length of time, the question assumes still a different phase.

Until I am informed what is to be done I cannot act understandingly or for the good of the service. If I am kept longer in ignorance of what is to be effected I cannot be expected to accomplish the object in view. In the meantime I will do all in my power to carry out what I conceive to be your wishes.


The moment I received the instructions for removing the sick I at once gave the necessary directions for carrying them out.

With the small amount of transportation at hand the removal of the severe cases alone would necessarily take several days, and, in the meantime, I desired information to determine what I should do with the others.

The order required me to send them away as quickly as possible, and to notify the general-in-chief when they were removed.

Previous to the receipt of the despatch of the 2d of Aug., not having been advised of what the army under my command was expected to do, or which way it was to move, if it moved at all, I sent the following despatch to Gen. Halleck:

Berkley, Aug. 3
I hear of sea-steamers at Fort Monroe; are they for removing my sick? If so, to what extent am I required to go in sending them off? There are not many who need go.

As I am not in any way informed of the intentions of the government in regard to this army, I am unable to judge what proportion of the sick should leave here, and must ask for specific orders.

If the army was to retreat to Fort Monroe it was important that it should be unencumbered with any sick, wounded, or other men who might at all interfere with its mobility; but if the object was to operate directly on Richmond from the position we then occupied, there were many cases of slight sickness which would speedily be cured and the patients returned to duty.

As the service of every man would be important in the event of a forward offensive movement, I considered it to be of the utmost consequence that I should know what was to be done. It was to ascertain this that I sent the despatch of eleven P. M. on the 3d, before receiving the following telegram from Gen. Halleck:

Washington, Aug. 3, 1862, 7.45 P. M.
I have waited most anxiously to learn the result of your forced reconnoissance towards Richmond, and also whether all your sick have been sent away, and I can get no answer to my telegram.

It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Acquia creek. You will take immediate measures to effect this, covering the movement the best you can. [496]

Its real object and withdrawal should be concealed even from your own officers.

Your material and transportation should be removed first. You will assume control of all the means of transportation within your reach, and apply to the naval forces for all the assistance they can render you. You will consult freely with the commander of these forces. The entire execution of the movement is left to your discretion and judgment.

You will leave such forces as you may deem proper at Fort Monroe, Norfolk, and other places, which we must occupy.

I proceeded to obey this order with all possible rapidity, firmly impressed, however, with the conviction that the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from Harrison's Landing, where its communications had, by the co-operation of the gunboats, been rendered perfectly secure, would at that time have the most disastrous effect upon our cause.

I did not, as the commander of that army, allow the occasion to pass without distinctly setting forth my views upon the subject to the authorities in the following telegram:

Aug. 4.--Your telegram of last evening is received. I must confess that it has caused me the greatest pain I ever experienced, for I am convinced that the order to withdraw this army to Acquia creek will prove disastrous to our cause.

I fear it will be a fatal blow.

Several days are necessary to complete the preparations for so important a movement as this; and while they are in progress I beg that careful consideration may be given to my statements.

This army is now in excellent discipline and condition. We hold a debouch on both banks of the James river, so that we are free to act in any direction, and, with the assistance of the gunboats, I consider our communications as now secure. We are twenty-five miles from Richmond, and are not likely to meet the enemy in force sufficient to fight a battle until we have marched fifteen to eighteen miles, which brings us practically within ten miles of Richmond. Our longest line of land-transportation would be from this point twenty-five miles; but with the aid of the gunboats we can supply the army by water, during its advance, certainly to within twelve miles of Richmond.

At Acquia creek we would be seventy-five miles from Richmond, with land-transportation all the way. [497]

From here to Fort Monroe is a march of about seventy miles; for I regard it as impracticable to withdraw this army and its material except by land.

The result of the movement would thus be a march of one hundred and forty-five miles to reach a point now only twenty-five miles distant, and to deprive ourselves entirely of the powerful aid of the gunboats and water-transportation. Add to this the certain demoralization of this army which would ensue, the terribly depressing effect upon the people of the North, and the strong probability that it would influence foreign powers to recognize our adversaries, and there appear to me sufficient reasons to make it my imperative duty to urge, in the strongest terms afforded by our language, that this order may be rescinded, and that, far from recalling this army, it be promptly reinforced to enable it to resume the offensive.

It may be said that there are no reinforcements available. I point to Burnside's force, to that of Pope — not necessary to maintain a strict defensive in front of Washington and Harper's Ferry — to those portions of the Army of the West not required for a strict defensive there. Here, directly in front of this army, is the heart of the rebellion; it is here that all our resources should be collected to strike the blow which will determine the fate of the nation. All points of secondary importance elsewhere should be abandoned and every available man brought here; a decided victory here, and the military strength of the rebellion is crushed, it matters not what partial reverses we may meet with elsewhere.

Here is the true defence of Washington; it is here, on the banks of the James, that the fate of the Union should be decided.

Clear in my convictions of right, strong in the consciousness that I have ever been, and still am, actuated solely by love of my country, knowing that no ambitious or selfish motives have influenced me from the commencement of this war, I do now what I never did in my life before — I entreat that this order may be rescinded.

If my counsel does not prevail I will, with a sad heart, obey your orders to the utmost of my power, directing to the movement, which I clearly foresee will be one of the utmost delicacy and difficulty, whatever skill I may possess. [498]

Whatever the result may be — and may God grant that I am mistaken in my forebodings — I shall at least have the internal satisfaction that I have written and spoken frankly, and have sought to do the best in my power to avert disaster from my country.

G. B. McClellan, Maj-Gen. Commanding. Maj.-Gen. H. W. Halleck, Commanding U. S. Army.

Soon after sending this telegram I received the following from Gen. Halleck in reply to mine of eleven P. M. of the 3d:

My telegram to you of yesterday will satisfy you in regard to future operations; it was expected that you would have sent off your sick, as directed, without waiting to know what were or would be the intentions of the government respecting future movements.

The President expects that the instructions which were sent you yesterday, with his approval, will be carried out with all possible despatch and caution. The quartermaster-general is sending to Fort Monroe all the transportation he can collect.

To which the following is my reply:
Your telegram of yesterday received, and is being carried out as promptly as possible. With the means at my command no human power could have moved the sick in the time you say you expected them to be moved. . . .

My efforts for bringing about a change of policy were unsuccessful. On the 7th I received the following telegram from Gen. Halleck:

You will immediately report the number of sick sent off since you received my order; the number still to be shipped, and the amount of transportation at your disposal; that is, the number of persons that can be carried on all the vessels which by my order you were authorized to control.

To which I made this reply:

Aug. 7.
In reply to your despatch of 10 A. M. to-day I report the number of sick sent off since I received your order as follows: 3,740, including some that are embarked to-night and will [499] leave to-morrow morning. The number still to be shipped is, as nearly as can be ascertained, 5,700.

The embarkation of five batteries of artillery! with their horses, wagons, etc., required most of our available boats, except the ferry-boats. All the transports that can ascend to this place have been ordered up: they will be here to-morrow evening. Col. Ingalls reports to me that there are no transports now available for cavalry, and will not be for two or three days. As soon as they can be obtained I shall send off the 1st N. Y. Cavalry.

After the transports with sick and wounded have returned, including some heavy-draught steamers at Fort Monroe that cannot come to this point, we can transport 25,000 men at a time. We have some propellers here, but they are laden with commissary supplies and are not available.

The transports now employed in transporting sick and wounded will carry 12,000 well infantry soldiers. Those at Fort Monroe, and of too heavy draught to come here, will carry 8,000 or 10,000 infantry. Several of the largest steamers have been used for transporting prisoners of war, and have only become available for the sick to-day.

The report of my chief-quartermaster upon the subject is as follows:

headquarters, Army of the Potomac, office of chief-quartermaster, Harrison's Landing, August 7, 1862.
general: I have the honor to return the papers herewith which you sent me, with the following remarks:

We are embarking five batteries of artillery, with their horses, baggage, etc., which requires the detailing of most of our available boats, except the ferry-boats. The medical department has ten or twelve of our largest transport vessels, which, if disposable, could carry 12,000 men. Besides, there are some heavy-draught steamers at Fort Monroe that cannot come to this point, but which can carry 8,000 or 10,000 infantry.

I have ordered all up here that can ascend to this depot. They will be here to-morrow evening. As it now is, after the details already made we cannot transport from this place more than 5,000 infantry.

There are no transports now available for cavalry. From and after to-morrow, if the vessels arrive, I could transport 10,000 infantry. In two or three days a regiment of cavalry can be sent, if required. If you wait, and ship from Yorktown or Fort Monroe after the sick and mounded transports are at my disposal, we can transport 25,000 at a time. The number [500] that can be transported is contingent on circumstances referred to.

Most of the propellers here are laden with commissary or other supplies, and most of the tugs are necessary to tow off sail-craft also laden with supplies.

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

Rufus Ingalls, Chief-Quartermaster. Gen. R. B. Marcy, Chief of Staff

On the 9th I received this despatch from Gen. Halleck:

I am of the opinion that the enemy is massing his forces in front of Gens. Pope and Burnside, and that he expects to crush them and move forward to the Potomac.

You must send reinforcements instantly to Acquia creek.

Considering the amount of transportation at your disposal, your delay is not satisfactory. You must move with all possible celerity.

To which I sent the following reply:

Telegram of yesterday received. The batteries sent to Burnside took the last available transport yesterday morning. Enough have since arrived to ship one regiment of cavalry to-day. The sick are being embarked as rapidly as possible. There has been no unnecessary delay, as you assert — not an hour's — but everything has been and is being pushed as rapidly as possible to carry out your orders.

The following report, made on the same day by the officer then in charge of the transports, exposes the injustice of the remark in the despatch of the general-in-chief, that, “considering the amount of transportation at your disposal, your delay is not satisfactory” :

assistant quartermaster's office, Army of the Potomac, Harrison's Landing, Virginia, Aug. 10, 1862.
Col. Ingalls, being himself ill, has requested me to telegraph to you concerning the state and capacity of the transports now here. On the night of the 8th I despatched eleven steamers, principally small ones, and six schooners, with five batteries of heavy horse-artillery, none of which have yet returned.

Requisition is made this morning for transportation of 1,000 cavalry to Acquia creek. All the schooners that had been chartered [501] for carrying horses have been long since discharged or changed into freight-vessels.

A large proportion of the steamers now here are still loaded with stores, or are in the floating hospital service engaged in removing the sick. To transport the 1,000 cavalry to-day will take all the available steamers now here not engaged in the service of the harbor. These steamers could take a large number of infantry, but are not well adapted to the carrying of horses, and much space is thus lost. Several steamers are expected here to-day, and we are unloading schooners rapidly; most of these are not chartered, but are being taken for the service required, at same rates of pay as other chartered schooners. If you could cause a more speedy return of the steamers sent away from here it would facilitate matters.

C. G. Sawtelle, Capt. and Assist. Quartermaster, commanding Depot.

Our wharf facilities at Harrison's Landing were very limited, admitting but few vessels at one time. These were continually in use as long as there were disposable vessels, and the officers of the medical and quartermaster's departments, with all their available forces, were incessantly occupied, day and night, in embarking and sending off the sick men, troops, and material.

Notwithstanding the repeated representations I made to the general-in-chief that such were the facts, on the 10th I received the following from Gen. Halleck:

The enemy is crossing the Rapidan in large force. They are fighting Gen. Pope to-day; there must be no further delay in your movements. That which has already occurred was entirely unexpected and must be satisfactorily explained. Let not a moment's time be lost, and telegraph me daily what progress you have made in executing the order to transfer your troops.

To which I sent this reply:

Your despatch of to-day is received. I assure you again that there has not been any unnecessary delay in carrying out your orders. You are probably laboring under some great mistake as to the amount of transportation available here. I have pushed matters to the utmost in getting off our sick and the troops you ordered to Burnside.

Col. Ingalls has more than once informed the quartermaster-general of the condition of our water-transportation. From the [502] fact that you directed me to keep the order secret I took it for granted that you would take the steps necessary to provide the requisite transportation. A large number of transports for all arms of service and for wagons should at once be sent to Yorktown and Fort Monroe. I shall be ready to move the whole army by land the moment the sick are disposed of. You may be sure that not an hour's delay will occur that can be avoided. I fear you do not realize the difficulty of the operation proposed. The regiment of cavalry for Burnside has been in course of embarkation to-day and to-night. Ten steamers were required for the purpose. 1,258 sick loaded to-day and to-night. Our means exhausted, except one vessel returning to Fort Monroe in the morning, which will take some 500 cases of slight sickness.

The present moment is probably not the proper one for me to refer to the unnecessarily harsh and unjust tone of your telegrams of late. It will, however, make no difference in my official action.

On the 11th this report was made:

The embarkation of 850 cavalry and one brigade of infantry will be completed by two o'clock in the morning; 500 sick were embarked to-day; another vessel arrived to-night, and 600 more sick are now being embarked. I still have some 4,000 sick to dispose of. You have been grossly misled as to the amount of transportation at my disposal. Vessels loaded to their utmost capacity with stores, and others indispensable for service here, have been reported to you as available for carrying sick and well. I am sending off all that can be unloaded at Fort Monroe, to have them return here. I repeat that I have lost no time in carrying out your orders.

On the 12th I received the following from Gen. Halleck:

The quartermaster-general informs me that nearly every available steam-vessel in the country is now under your control.

It was supposed that 8,000 or 10,000 of your men could be transported daily. In addition to steamers there is a large fleet of sailing-vessels which could be used as transports. The bulk of your material on shore, it was thought, could be sent to Fort Monroe covered by that part of the army which could not get water-transportation. Such were the views of the government here. Perhaps me were misinformed as to the facts; if so, the delay could be explained. Nothing in my telegram was intentionally harsh or unjust; but the delay was so unexpected that an explanation was required. There has been and is the most [503] urgent necessity for despatch, and not a single moment must be lost in getting additional troops in front of Washington.

I telegraphed the following reply at eleven P. M.:

Your despatch of noon to-day received. It is positively the fact that no more men could have embarked hence than have gone, and that no unnecessary delay has occurred . . . .

I am sure that you have been misinformed as to the availability of vessels on hand. We cannot use heavily loaded supply-vessels for troops or animals; and such constitute the mass of those here, which have been represented to you as capable of transporting this army. . .

There shall be no unnecessary delay, but I cannot manufacture vessels. I state these difficulties from experience, and because it appears to me that we have been lately working at cross-purposes, because you have not been properly informed by those around you, who ought to know — the inherent difficulties of such an undertaking. It is not possible for any one to place this army where you wish it, ready to move, in less than a month.

If Washington is in danger now this army can scarcely arrive in time to save it; it is in much better position to do so from here than from Acquia.

Our material can only be saved by using the whole army to cover it if me are pressed. If sensibly weakened by detachments the result might be the loss of much material and many men. I will be at the telegraph-office to-morrow morning.

It will be seen by the concluding paragraph of the foregoing despatch that in order to have a more direct, speedy, and full explanation of the condition of affairs in the army than I could by sending a single despatch by steamer to the nearest telegraph-office at Jamestown island, some seventy miles distant, and waiting ten hours for a reply, I proposed to go in person to the office. This I did.

On my arrival at Jamestown island there was an interruption in the electric current, which rendered it necessary for me to continue on to Fort Monroe, and across the Chesapeake bay to Cherry Stone inlet, on the “Eastern shore,” where I arrived late in the evening, and immediately sent the two annexed despatches:

August 13th 11.30 P. M.
Please come to office; wish to talk to you. What news from Pope?

August 14th 12.30 A. M.
Started to Jamestown island to talk with [504] you; found cable broken and came here. Please read my long telegram [of Aug: 12, 11 P. M.] All quiet at camp. Enemy burned wharves at City Point yesterday. No rebel pickets within eight (8) miles of Coggins's Point yesterday.

Richmond prisoners state that large force with guns left Richmond northward on Sunday.

To which the following reply was received:

1.40 A. M.--I have read your despatch. There is no change of plans. You will send up your troops as rapidly as possible. There is no difficulty in landing them. According to your own accounts there is now no difficulty in withdrawing your forces. Do so with all possible rapidity.

H. W. Halleck, Maj.-Gen.

Before I had time to decipher and reply to this despatch, the telegraph operator in Washington informed me that Gen. Halleck had gone out of the office immediately after writing this despatch, without leaving any intimation of the fact for me or waiting for any further information as to the object of my journey across the bay. As there was no possibility of other communication with him at that time, I sent the following despatch and returned to Harrison's Landing:

1.40 A. M.
Your orders will be obeyed. I return at once. I had hoped to have had a longer and fuller conversation with you, after travelling so far for the purpose.

On the 14th and 15th, and before we had been able to embark all our sick men, two army corps were put in motion towards Fort Monroe. This was reported in the annexed despatch:

Aug. 16, 11 P. M.
Movement has commenced by land and water. All sick will be away to-morrow night. Everything being done to carry out your orders. I don't like Jackson's movements; he will suddenly appear where least expected. Will telegraph fully and understandingly in the morning.

The phrase “movement has commenced,” it need not be remarked, referred obviously to the movement of the main army after completing the necessary preliminary movements of the sick, etc. [505]

The perversion of the term to which the general-in-chief saw fit to give currency, in a letter to the Secretary of War, should have been here rendered impossible by the despatches which precede this of the 14th, which show that the movement really began immediately after the receipt of the order of Aug. 4.2

After the commencement of the movement it was continued with the utmost rapidity until all the troops and material were en route, both by land and water, on the morning of the 16th.

Late in the afternoon of that day, when the last man had disappeared from the deserted camps, I followed with my personal staff in the track of the grand Army of the Potomac, bidding farewell to the scene still covered with the marks of its presence, and to be for ever memorable in history as the vicinity of its most brilliant exploits.

Previous to the departure of the troops I had directed Capt. Duane, of the engineer corps, to proceed to Barrett's Ferry, near the mouth of the Chickahominy, and throw across the river at that point a pontoon-bridge. This was executed promptly and satisfactorily, under the cover of gunboats, and an excellent bridge of about 2,000 feet in length was ready for the first arrival of troops. The greater part of the army, with its artillery, wagon-trains, etc., crossed it rapidly, and in perfect order and safety, so that on the night of the 17th everything was across the Chickahominy, except the rear-guard, which crossed early on the morning of the 18th, when the pontoon-bridge was immediately removed.

Gen. Porter's corps, which was the first to march from Harrison's Landing, had been pushed forward rapidly, and on the 16th reached Williamsburg, where I had directed him to halt until the entire army was across the Chickahominy.

On his arrival at Williamsburg, however, he received an intercepted letter, which led to the belief that Gen. Pope would have to contend against a very heavy force then in his front. Gen. Porter, therefore, very properly took the responsibility of continuing his march directly on to Newport News, which place he reached on the morning of the 18th of August, having marched [506] his corps sixty miles in the short period of three days and one night, halting one day at the crossing of the Chickahominy.

The embarkation of this corps commenced as soon as transports were ready, and on the 20th it had all sailed for Acquia creek from Barrett's Ferry.

On the 18th and 19th our march was continued to Williamsburg and Yorktown, and on the 20th the remainder of the army was ready to embark at Yorktown, Fortress Monroe, and Newport News.

From the commencement to the termination of this most arduous campaign the Army of the Potomac always evinced the most perfect subordination, zeal, and alacrity in the performance of all the duties required of it.

The amount of severe labor accomplished by this army in the construction of entrenchments, roads, bridges, etc., was enormous; yet all the work was performed with the most gratifying cheerfulness and devotion to the interests of the service.

During the campaign ten severely contested and sanguinary battles had been fought, besides numerous smaller engagements, in which the troops exhibited the most determined enthusiasm and bravery. They submitted to exposure, sickness, and even death, without a murmur. Indeed, they had become veterans in their country's cause and richly deserved the warm commendation of the government.

It was in view of these facts that this seemed to me an appropriate occasion for the general-in-chief to give, in general orders, some appreciative expression of the services of the army while upon the Peninsula. Accordingly, on the 18th I sent him the following despatch:

headquarters, Army of the Potomac, Aug. 18, 1862, 11 P. M.
Please say a kind word to my army that I can repeat to them in general orders in regard to their conduct at Yorktown, Williamsburg, West Point, Hanover Court-House, and on the Chickahominy, as well as in regard to the Seven Days and the recent retreat.

No one has ever said anything to cheer them but myself. Say nothing about me. Merely give my men and officers credit for what they have done. It will do you much good, and will strengthen you much with them, if you issue a handsome order [507] to them in regard to what they have accomplished. They deserve it.

As no reply was received to this communication, and no order was issued by the general-in-chief, I conclude that the suggestion did not meet with his approbation.

All the personnel and material of the army had been transferred from Harrison's Landing to the different points of embarkation in the very brief period of five days without the slightest loss or damage. Porter's troops sailed from Newport News on the 19th and 20th. Heintzelman's corps sailed from Yorktown on the 21st. On that day I received the following telegram from the general-in-chief:

Leave such garrisons in Fortress Monroe, Yorktown, etc., as you may deem proper. They will be replaced by new troops as rapidly as possible.

The forces of Burnside and Pope are hard pushed, and require aid as rapidly as you can send it. Come yourself as soon as you can. . . .

1 Note by the Editor.--It has been frequently intimated that this letter was written, in consultation with friends at the North, as a political document. It was the misfortune of McClellan that civilians at Washington, judging him in their own lights, could not conceive it possible that he or any man could render honest, unselfish service to country and cause without some concealed purpose of benefit to himself. Pure devotion to duty, without thought of self, is incomprehensible to the average politician. I think it proper to say, therefore, that no one of McClellan's most intimate personal friends at the North knew even of the existence of this letter until rumors about it came from members of Mr. Lincoln's cabinet. None of them saw it until after the general was finally relieved from command. Meantime it had been discussed thoroughly by those to whom the President showed it, and it cannot be doubted that a general inability to appreciate the sincere motives in which it was written did much to determine the future conduct of the administration towards McClellan. Mr. Chase, with startling innocence of mind, avows (Warden, p. 440) that on July 22 he urged Mr. Lincoln to remove McClellan, on the ground “that I did not regard Gen. McClellan as loyal to the administration, although I did not question his general loyalty to the country.” This is the confession of a motive in the conduct of a great war which is universally regarded as infamous. It is an avowal that the controlling consideration of such leaders as Mr. Chase, in the use of the blood and treasure of the people, was the supremacy of party, and not the success of country. Neither the President nor Gen. McClellan had any such impure ideas. And it is beyond doubt that the radical difference between his own views and those of the self-seeking men who surrounded him led Mr. Lincoln to the despairing state of mind in which, a few weeks later, he desired to resign.

2 In a letter to the Secretary of War, Aug. 30, 1862, Gen Halleck said: “It will be seen from my telegraphic correspondence that Gen. McClellan protested against the movement, and that it was not actually commenced till the 14th inst.”

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