E must return to the theatre of war in Virginia
It will be remembered that we left the army of the Potomac at Harrison's Landing
, resting after the seven days battle, and Lee
leading back his own forces to the neighborhood of Richmond
A month had elapsed since Mr. Lincoln
, landing on the banks of the James
, had come to consult with General McClellan
relative to the plans of the forthcoming campaigns; it was now the 8th of August.
During this period only a few skirmishes had disturbed the silence and inaction that succeeded the great marches and desperate struggles which the month of June had witnessed.
Everything, however, seemed to indicate that a new crisis was at hand.
A Federal army about fifty thousand strong, called the army of Virginia, was concentrated on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge
, between the two branches of the Rappahannock
was preparing to attack it at the head of three divisions.
Farther to the south, Lee
still occupied Richmond
with the remainder of his army.
At Harrison's Landing
the constant coming in and going out of transports, shipping war materials, cavalry and the wounded, together with the preparations for departure ostensibly going on in the camps, denoted an early movement on the part of the army of the Potomac.
It was indeed about to make a start, but only to turn its back upon the enemy.
Acting in obedience to superior orders, its chief would be compelled, in spite of his protest, to take it back to Fortress Monroe
; he was about to abandon the position he had conquered on the James
after so many sacrifices, which the victorious enemy could not
wrest from him. A few words will suffice to explain this strange result.
We have seen how the personal ambition, the jealousy and the unwarranted alarms, which at the time of the embarkation of the army of the Potomac had conspired to exercise a fatal influence over Mr. Lincoln
's mind, had since continued to embarrass McClellan
After having kept McDowell
back for the defence of Washington
, the President
and his Secretary of War
, who was as great a novice as himself in such matters, had undertaken to direct the campaign from the recesses of their cabinet.
We know the result.
The three small independent armies of McDowell
, formed at the expense of the reinforcements intended for the army of the Potomac, had been beaten in detail.
was stealing away to repair to Gaines' Mill
, the Union
generals were only occupied in the reorganization of their troops, exhausted by forced marches and useless countermarches.
returned, but too late, to his positions at Fredericksburg
, on the Rappahannock
concentrated his forces near Luray
remained in West Virginia
, whither he had returned immediately after the unfortunate expedition of Cross Keys
Meanwhile, the President
, a man of modesty and good sense, had very soon discovered the error he had committed in attempting to direct the complicated movements of several armies from Washington
; but instead of securing unity of direction by restoring General McClellan
to supreme authority over all the troops destined to operate against Richmond
, he summoned General Pope
from the West
, and placed the corps of McDowell
under his command.
The latter, refusing to serve under an officer who was his inferior in rank, transferred the command of his troops to Sigel
It was now the 26th of June, the day of the battle of Mechanicsville
Shortly after, Mr. Lincoln
revived the rank of commander-in-chief of all the Federal
armies, of which he had stripped McClellan
just as he was taking the field; but not wishing to reinstate that general, he conferred the office upon Halleck
The brilliant successes of the armies of the West
had won the admiration of all men; these successes were supposed to be due to the superiority of those armies over Eastern troops, and in taking their generals it was thought that they
would bring victory with them.
But the President
was extremely ill advised; from those armies, which numbered among their generals a Grant, a Sherman, a MacPherson, a Sheridan, he selected Halleck
for the supreme command.
inaugurated his assumption of the command by a general order
, in which he expressed his personal views regarding strategy in language which was offensive not only to his predecessors, but to the soldiers whom he addressed.
‘I desire,’ he said, ‘that you will dismiss from your minds certain phrases which I am sorry to find much in vogue among you. I constantly hear of strong positions to be captured and occupied, of lines of retreat and bases of supplies.
Let us discard such ideas.’
himself proclaimed that it was no longer his task to cover Washington
while the army of the Potomac was making an offensive campaign against Richmond
He would adopt the plan of campaign favored by Mr. Lincoln
in opposition to that of landing on the peninsula of Virginia
, and by following the land route he expected to enter Richmond
before General McClellan
, to show the latter how much he had been mistaken in advancing by way of Yorktown
The Federal troops destined to operate against the Confederate
capital were, therefore, divided into two armies, one numbering ninety, the other fifty thousand men, unable to form a junction, and separated from each other by all the enemy's forces.
Such a dangerous situation could not be allowed to continue.
was well convinced of this; but instead of falling back upon McClellan
's plan of assuming a strictly defensive attitude, and of bringing back the troops charged with the defence of Washington
to the banks of the Potomac
, in order to render the reinforced army of the Potomac perfectly free in its movements, he added his own persuasions to the representations of those who were already asking the President
to sacrifice the conquered positions near Richmond
to the plan of campaign which the new general contemplated carrying into effect.
The committee appointed by Congress to report on the conduct of the war, not satisfied with exercising exclusive judgment over accomplished facts, was always interfering with the management of military affairs.
contrived to humor their prejudices by attacking McClellan
, and to flatter their vanity by submitting for
their approval plans of campaign, which he took good care not to execute when the occasion presented itself.1
In this way he gained the support of the committee.
was beset by those who, in the name of public interest, were urging him to consolidate the two armies of Virginia
and the Potomac
by bringing the latter back to the line of the Rappahannock
The President resisted a long time.
Indeed, on the occasion of his interview with McClellan
at Harrison's Landing
, the latter had so thoroughly demonstrated the importance of that position, that he went back fully determined to allow the chief of the army of the Potomac full freedom of action.
But General Halleck
had claimed for himself, as commander-in-chief, the exclusive direction of all the armies in the field, and Mr. Lincoln
, conscious of his own incompetency, submitted to this new authority.
All the measures taken for placing the army of the Potomac in a condition to resume the offensive were immediately altered.
had brought seven thousand men to Fort Monroe
; four thousand more, taken away from Hunter
, had joined him at Hampton Roads
; this important reinforcement was temporarily detained, and landed on the sand-beach of Newport News; no assistance was even sent to the waters of the James
to repair the ordinary losses which sickness entails upon all large armies; and McClellan
, reduced to a subordinate command, remained as totally ignorant of the part
reserved for his troops as the humblest of his soldiers.
It even appeared as if