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Chapter 38:

  • General Burnside in command.
  • -- my connection with the secret service severed. -- reflections upon important events. -- conclusion.

On the evening of the seventh of November, following the battle of Antietam, General McClellan was removed from the command of the Army of the Potomac. After having spent weeks in the laborious effort of reorganizing his forces, which had been severely shattered and weakened by the hard marching and the still harder fighting in the recent battles with Lee, the brave commander, upon the eve of an important forward movement was deprived of his noble army. General Burnside was named as his successor. Again had the political cabal at Washington succeeded in their opposition to the noble commander of the Army of the Potomac, and this time effectually.

McClellan's tardiness was the alleged cause of his removal. No one in authority seemed to consider for a moment the necessity, which was apparent to their immediate commander, of affording the Federal [580] troops an opportunity to recuperate from their exhausted condition. The serious losses sustained at South Mountain, Crampton's Gap, and Antietam had left the army badly disorganized, and the privations and hardships to which they had been subjected, rendered a delay, for the purpose of allowing the worn and weary soldiers time to rest and recuperate, an absolute necessity. In the language of McClellan, “The army had need of rest.” After the terrible experiences of battles and marches, with scarcely an interval of repose, which they had gone through from the time of leaving the Peninsula; the return to Washington; the defeat in Virginia; the victory at South Mountain, and again at Antietam, it was not surprising that they were, in a large degree, destitute of the absolute necessities for effective duty. Shoes were worn out; blankets were lost; clothing was in rags; the army was unfit for duty, and time for rest and equipment was absolutely necessary.

McClellan at once notified the authorities of the condition of his troops, and made the necessary requisitions on the proper departments for the needed supplies. For some unaccountable reason — unaccountable to this day — the supplies ordered were so slow in reaching the men, that when, on the seventh of October, the command came for him to cross the river into Virginia, and give battle to the enemy, a compliance with the order was practically impossible. [581]

Then, too, reenforcements were needed. In ordering the advance, the President, through the General-in-Chief, had submitted two plans, of which McClellan could take his choice. One was to advance up the valley of the Shenandoah with reenforcements of fifteen thousand troops, the other was to cross the river between the enemy and Washington, in which case he was be reenforced with thirty thousand men. McClellan's first inclination was to adopt the movement up the Shenandoah Valley, believing, that, if he crossed the river into Virginia, Lee would be enabled to promptly prevent success in that direction by at once throwing his army into Maryland. Owing, however, to the delay of the supplies in reaching the army, it was nearly the end of October before the troops were ready to move. About the twenty-sixth, the army commenced to cross at Harper's Ferry, and by the sixth of November the advance upon the enemy was begun. On the night of the seventh, therefore, when the order came relieving him from the command, McClellan's advance guard was actually engaged with the enemy.

I had already learned that Longstreet was immediately in our front, near Culpepper, while Jackson and Hill's forces were near Chester's and Thornton's Gap, west of the Blue Ridge. McClellan had formed the plan of attempting to divide the enemy, with the hope of forcing him to battle, when it was believed, an easy victory would be achieved. [582]

At this juncture, however, and when the army was in an excellent condition to fight a great battle, when officers and men were enthusiastic in their hopes of being able soon to strike an effective blow, McClellan was removed, and Stanton had, at last, accomplished his revenge, Not only this, but he had also secured the failure of, what was undoubtedly destined to be, a great and decisively victorious campaign.

McClellan's plan on discovering the position of the enemy's forces, was to strike in between Culpepper Court House and Little Washington, hoping by this means to separate the rebel army, or at least to force their retreat to Gordonsville, and then advance upon Richmond, either by way of Fredericksburg or the Peninsula.

Burnside, on assuming the command, submitted a plan of his own, which was to make a feint of doing, what McClellan really intended to do, before adopting the move upon Fredericksburg or the Peninsula, and then to advance from Fredericksburg.

This plan, however, did not meet the approval of General Halleck. That General had a long conference with Burnside, at Warrenton. Here their various plans were discussed, without either agreeing to the plan of the other, and the matter was finally referred to the President for his decision. After a further delay of several days, Mr. Lincoln adopted Burnside's plan, and the advance was ordered. [583]

The success of this plan depended upon the immediate possession of Fredericksburg by the Federal army. The intelligent student knows full well that this was not even attempted until Lee had ample time to heavily re-enforce the rebel army already there. The subsequent results show Burnside's delay to have been fatal to his success.

There was a time when he could certainly have taken Fredericksburg, with but little loss; but that time was passed when he permitted the enemy to fully garrison the place, and make ample provision for its defense with an army of nearly ninety thousand men.

At this time, however, my connection with the Army of the Potomac, and with the military concerns of the government, ceased. Upon the removal of General McClellan, I declined to act any further in the capacity in which I had previously served, although strongly urged to do so by both President Lincoln and the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton.

From my earliest manhood, I had been an ardent and active abolitionist, and I have endeavored to demonstrate this fact throughout these pages. My deep admiration, therefore, for General McClellan, was the result of my knowledge, of my intimate acquaintance with him, and a consequent high regard, based upon his innate and intrinsic qualities, both as a man and a soldier, and not from any political affinity whatever. [584]

Refusing longer to continue with the army under its new commander, I was afterwards employed by the government in the work of investigating the numerous claims that were presented against the United States. While acting in this capacity, I was instrumental in unearthing a vast number of fraudulent claims, and, in bringing to justice a large number of men who were engaged in the base attempt to swindle and defraud the nation in the dark hours of her need and peril.

In the Spring of 1864, I was transfered to the Department of the Mississippi, under General Canby, and my headquarters were located at New Orleans. Here I was engaged in looking after cotton claims, and the frauds which were sought to he perpetrated against the government in that region of the country.

In 1865, I severed my connection with the “Secret service of the United States,” and returned to Chicago, where I have since been engaged in the active prosecution of my profession as a detective.

Very often, as I sit in the twilight, my mind reverts back to those stirring scenes of by-gone days; to those years of war and its consequent hardships, and I recall with pleasure my own connection with the suppression of the rebellion. My subsequent life has been none the less happy because of my having assisted, as best as I could, in putting down that [585] gigantic act of attempted disunion, and in upholding the flag of our fathers. More than all do I rejoice in the freedom it brought to nearly half a million of people, who, prior to that time, had been held in inhuman bondage,--striking the shackles from their bruised limbs, and placing them before the law free and independent.

My task is done. In a few brief pages I have attempted to depict the work of years. The war is over, the rebellion has been crushed, peace and plenty are everywhere apparent. The flag of the Union floats from every port in the United States, the slave is free, the South is recovering from the ravages of war, and the stories of those stirring times seem now like the legends of an olden time.

One more scene remains, and I will then draw the curtain.

It is a Sabbath morning, the air is fragrant with blossom and flower, the birds are carolling sweetly a requiem for the dead. Around us, sleeping the sleep that knows no waking, lie the forms of those whom we knew and loved. We are in the “city of the dead.” The wind sighs through the waving branches of the trees, with a mournful melody, suggestive of the place. Near by is the bustling city, but here we are surrounded only by the mute, though eloquent testimonies of man's eternal rest. Here beneath a drooping willow let us pause awhile. Flowers are blooming [586] over a mound of earth, saturating the atmosphere with a grateful aroma. Let us lean over while we read what is inscribed upon the marble tablet.

to the memory of
Timothy Webster,
was executed as a spy,
by the
rebels, in Richmond, Va.,
April 29, 1862,
after gallant service in the war
of the Rebellion.
he sealed his fidelity and devotion
to his country
with his blood.

Alike to him are the heats of summer, or the snows of winter.

Peacefully and quietly he sleeps. The Spy of the Rebellion is at rest.

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