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Chapter 39:

  • Crossing the Potomac
  • -- the march of a great army -- overtaking the enemy -- another battle imminent -- removed from the command -- Burnside brings the order -- Farewells to the army.

On the 25th of Oct. the pontoon-bridge at Berlin was constructed, there being already one across the Potomac and another across the Shenandoah at Harper's Ferry.

On the 26th two divisions of the 9th corps and Pleasonton's brigade of cavalry crossed at Berlin and occupied Lovettsville.

The 1st, 6th, and 9th corps, the cavalry, and reserve artillery crossed at Berlin between the 26th of Oct. and the 2d of Nov.

The 2d and 5th corps crossed at Harper's Ferry between the 29th of Oct. and 1st of Nov.

Heavy rains delayed the movement considerably in the beginning, and the 1st, 5th, and 6th corps were obliged to halt at least one day at the crossings to complete, as far as possible, the necessary supplies that could not be procured at an earlier period.

The plan of campaign I adopted during the advance was to move the army well in hand parallel to the Blue Ridge, taking Warrenton as the point of direction for the main army; seizing each pass on the Blue Ridge by detachments as we approached it, and guarding them, after we had passed, as long as they would enable the enemy to trouble our communications with the Potomac. It was expected that we would unite with the 11th corps and Sickles's division near Thoroughfare Gap. We depended upon Harper's Ferry and Berlin for supplies until the Manassas Gap Railway was reached; when that occurred the passes in our rear were to be abandoned and the army massed ready for action or movement in any direction.

It was my intention, if, upon reaching Ashby's or any other pass, I found that the enemy were in force between it and the [646] Potomac, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, to move into the valley and endeavor to gain their rear.

I hardly hoped to accomplish this, but did expect that by striking in between Culpeper Court-House and Little Washington I could either separate their army and beat them in detail, or else force them to concentrate as far back as Gordonsville, and thus place the Army of the Potomac in position either to adopt the Fredericksburg line of advance upon Richmond or to be removed to the Peninsula if, as I apprehended, it were found impossible to supply it by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad beyond Culpeper.

On the 27th of Oct. the remaining divisions of the 9th corps crossed at Berlin, and Pleasonton's cavalry advanced to Purcellville. The concentration of the 6th corps, delayed somewhat by intelligence as to the movements of the enemy near Hedgesville, etc., was commenced on this day, and the 1st corps was already in motion for Berlin.

On the 28th the 1st corps and the general headquarters reached Berlin.

On the 29th the reserve artillery crossed and encamped near Lovettsville. Stoneman's division, temporarily attached to the 9th corps, occupied Leesburg; Averill's cavalry brigade moved towards Berlin from Hagerstown; two divisions of the 9th corps moved to Wheatland, and one to Waterford. The 2d corps commenced the passage of the Shenandoah at Harper's Ferry, and moved into the valley east of Loudon Heights.

On the 30th the 1st corps crossed at Berlin and encamped near Lovettsville, and the 2d corps completed the passage of the Shenandoah. The 5th corps commenced its march from Sharpsburg to Harper's Ferry.

On the 31st the 2d corps moved to the vicinity of Hillsborough; the 6th corps reached Boonsborough; the 5th corps reached Harper's Ferry, one division crossing the Shenandoah.

On the 1st of Nov. the 1st corps moved to Purcellville and Hamilton; the 2d corps to Wood Grove; the 5th corps to Hillsborough; the 6th corps reached Berlin, one division crossing. Pleasonton's cavalry occupied Philomont, having a sharp skirmish there and at Bloomfield.

On Nov. 2 the 2d corps occupied Snicker's Gap; the 5th corps, Snickersville; the 6th corps crossed the Potomac and [647] encamped near Wheatland; the 9th corps advanced to Bloomfield, Union, and Philomont. Pleasonton drove the enemy out of Union. Averill was ordered to join Pleasonton. The enemy offered no serious resistance to the occupation of Snicker's Gap, but advanced to gain possession of it with a column of some 5,000 to 6,000 infantry, who were driven back by a few rounds from our rifled guns.

On the 3d the 1st corps moved to Philomont, Union, Bloomfield, etc.; the 2d corps to the vicinity of Upperville; the 5th corps remained at Snicker's Gap; the 6th corps moved to Purcellville; the 9th corps moved towards Upperville. Pleasonton drove the enemy out of Upperville after a severe fight.

On the 4th the 2d corps took possession of Ashby's Gap; the 6th corps reached Union; the 9th corps, Upperville; the cavalry occupied Piedmont. On the 5th the 1st corps moved to Rectortown and White Plains; one division of the 2d corps to the intersection of the Paris and Piedmont with the Upperville and Barber's road; the 6th corps to the Aldie pike, east of Upperville; the 9th corps beyond the Manassas Railroad, between Piedmont and Salem, with a brigade at Manassas Gap. The cavalry under Averill had a skirmish at Manassas Gap, and the brigade of Pleasonton gained a handsome victory over superior numbers at Barber's cross-roads. Bayard's cavalry had some sharp skirmishing in front of Salem.

On the 6th the 1st corps advanced to Warrenton, the 2d corps to Rectortown; the 5th corps commenced its movement from Snicker's Gap to White Plains; the 9th corps to Waterloo and vicinity on the Rappahannock; the 11th corps was at New Baltimore, Thoroughfare and Hopewell's Gaps; Sickles's division guarding the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from Manassas Junction towards Warrenton Junction; the cavalry near Flint Hill; Bayard to cut off what there might be in Warrenton, and to proceed to the Rappahannock Station.

Nov. 7, Gen. Pleasonton was ordered to move towards Little Washington and Sperryville, and thence towards Culpeper Court-House.

Nov. 8, the 2d corps moved half-way to Warrenton; the 5th corps to New Baltimore.

Nov. 9, the 2d and 5th corps reached Warrenton; the 6th corps New Baltimore. [648]

Late on the night of the 7th I received an order relieving me from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and directing me to turn it over to Gen. Burnside, which I at once did.

I had already given the orders for the movements of the 8th and 9th; these orders were carried into effect without change.

The position in which I left the army, as the result of the orders I had given, was as follows:

The 1st, 2d, and 5th corps, reserve artillery, and general headquarters at Warrenton; the 9th corps on the line of the Rappahannock, in the vicinity of Waterloo; the 6th corps at New Baltimore; the 11th corps at New Baltimore, Gainesville, and Thoroughfare Gap; Sickles's division, of the 3d corps, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, from Manassas Junction to Warrenton Junction; Pleasonton across the Rappahannock at Amissville, Jefferson, etc., with his pickets at Hazel river, facing Longstreet, six miles from Culpeper Court-House; Bayard near Rappahannock Station.

The army was thus massed near Warrenton, ready to act in any required direction, perfectly in hand, and in admirable condition and spirits. I doubt whether, during the whole period that I had the honor to command the Army of the Potomac, it was in such excellent condition to fight a great battle. When I gave up the command to Gen. Burnside the best information in our possession indicated that Longstreet was immediately in our front near Culpeper; Jackson, with one, perhaps both, of the Hills, near Chester and Thornton's Gaps, with the mass of their force west. of the Blue Ridge.

The reports from Gen. Pleasonton on the advance indicated the possibility of separating the two wings of the enemy's forces, and either beating Longstreet separately or forcing him to fall back at least upon Gordonsville to effect his junction with the rest of the army.

The following is from the report of Gen. Pleasonton:

At this time, and from the 7th instant, my advance pickets were at Hazel river, within six miles of Culpeper, besides having my flank pickets towards Chester and Thornton's Gaps extended to Gaines's cross-roads and Newby's cross-roads, with numerous patrols in the direction of Woodville, Little Washington, and Sperryville. [649]

Gen. McClellan's farewell to the Army.


The information gained from these parties, and also from deserters, prisoners, contrabands, as well as citizens, established the fact of Longstreet, with his command, being at Culpeper, while Jackson, with D. H. Hill, with their respective commands, were in the Shenandoah Valley, on the western side of the Blue Ridge, covering Chester and Thornton's Gaps, and expecting us to attempt to pass through and attack them. As late as the 17th of November a contraband just from Strasburg came into my camp and reported that D. H. Hill's corps was two miles beyond that place, on the railroad to Mount Jackson. Hill was tearing up the road and destroying the bridges under the impression that we intended to follow into that valley, and was en route for Staunton. Jackson's corps was between Strasburg and Winchester. Ewell and A. P. Hill were with Jackson. Provisions were scarce, and the rebels were obliged to keep moving to obtain them.

On the 10th of Nov. General Pleasonton was attacked by Longstreet, with one division of infantry and Stuart's cavalry, but repulsed the attack.

This indicates the relative position of our army and that of the enemy at the time I was relieved from the command.

Had I remained in command I should have made the attempt to divide the enemy, as before suggested; and could he have been brought to a battle within reach of my supplies, I cannot doubt that the result would have been a brilliant victory for our army.

[The following discretionary authority to Gen. Halleck, in the handwriting of Mr. Lincoln, was found among the papers of Gen. Halleck after his death, and transmitted by his widow to the War Department. It is not probable that Gen. McClellan ever heard of it :]

executive Mansion, Washington,
By direction of the President, it is ordered that Maj.-Gen. McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Maj.-Gen. Burnside take the command of that army. Also, that Maj.-Gen. Hunter take command of the corps in said army which is now commanded by Gen. Burnside.

That Maj.-Gen. Fitz-John Porter be relieved from the command of the corps he now commands in said army, and that Maj.-Gen. Hooker take command of said corps.


The general-in-chief is authorized, in discretion, to issue an order substantially as the above, forthwith or so soon as he may deem proper.

A. Lincoln. Nov. 5, 1862.

When we broke up the camps on the upper Potomac and moved in advance, the army was in fine order for another battle; the troops in the best of spirits, full of confidence in me, and I was then, I believe, capable of handling an army in the field as I had never been before. I felt that I could fight a great battle. The march was admirably conducted, and is worthy of study. In the course of the 7th of Nov. I heard incidentally that a special train had brought out from Washington Gen. Buckingham, who had left the railway very near our camp, and, without coming to see me, had proceeded through a driving snow-storm several miles to Burnside's camp. I at once suspected that he brought the order relieving me from command, but kept my own counsel. Late at night I was sitting alone in my tent, writing to my wife. All the staff were asleep. Suddenly some one knocked upon the tent-pole, and, upon my invitation to enter, there appeared Burnside and Buckingham, both looking very solemn. I received them kindly and commenced conversation upon general subjects in the most unconcerned manner possible. After a few moments Buckingham said to Burnside: “Well, general, I think we had better tell Gen. McClellan the object of our visit.” I very pleasantly said that I should be glad to learn it. Whereupon Buckingham handed me the two orders of which he was the bearer:

headquarters of the Army, Washington, Nov. 5, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. McClellan, Commanding etc.:
general: On receipt of the order of the President, sent herewith, you will immediately turn over your command to Maj.-Gen. Burnside, and repair to Trenton, N. J., reporting on your arrival at that place, by telegraph, for further orders.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. W. Halleck, Gen.-in-Chief.


General orders, no. 182.

War Department, adjutant-general's office, Washington, Nov. 5, 1862.
By direction of the President of the United States, it is ordered that Maj.-Gen. McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Maj.-Gen. Burnside take the command of that army.

By order of the Secretary of War.

E. D. Townsend, Assist. Adj.-Gen.

I saw that both-especially Buckingham — were watching me most intently while I opened and read the orders. I read the papers with a smile, immediately turned to Burnside, and said: “Well, Burnside, I turn the command over to you.”

They soon retired, Burnside having begged me to remain for a few days with the army, and I having consented to do so, though I wished to leave the next morning.

Before we broke up from the Maryland side of the Potomac I had said to Burnside that, as he was second in rank in the army, I wished him to be as near me as possible on the march, and that he must keep himself informed of the condition of affairs. I took especial pains during the march to have him constantly informed of what I was doing, the positions of the various corps, etc., and he ought to have been able to take the reins in his hands without a day's delay.

The order depriving me of the command created an immense deal of deep feeling in the army — so much so that many were in favor of my refusing to obey the order, and of marching upon Washington to take possession of the government. My chief purpose in remaining with the army as long as I did after being relieved was to calm this feeling, in which I succeeded.

I will not attempt to describe my own feelings nor the scenes attending my farewell to the army. They are beyond my powers of description. What words, in truth, could convey to the mind such a scene--thousands of brave men, who under my very eye had changed from raw recruits to veterans of many fields, shedding tears like children in their ranks, as they bade good-by to the general who had just led them to victory after the defeats they had seen under another leader? Could they have foreseen the future their feelings would not have been less intense! [653]

[The following was McClellan's farewell to the army:]

headquarters, Army of the Potomac, camp near Rectortown, Va., Nov. 7, 1862.
Officers and Soldiers of the Army of the Potomac:
An order of the President devolves upon Maj.-Gen. Burnside the command of this army.

In parting from you I cannot express the love and gratitude I bear to you. As an army you have grown up under my care. In you I have never found doubt or coldness. The battles you have fought under my command will proudly live in our nation's history. The glory you have achieved, our mutual perils and fatigues, the graves of our comrades fallen in battle and by disease, the broken forms of those whom mounds and sickness have disabled — the strongest associations which can exist among men-unite us still by an indissoluble tie. We shall ever be comrades in supporting the Constitution of our country and the nationality of its people.

Geo. B. McClellan, Maj.-Gen. U. S. Army.

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