McClellan’s Early Defenders Speak:


Voices from the Past in Defense of General George B. McClellan


Michael T. Griffith


@All Rights Reserved





General George B. McClellan was one of the best and noblest generals of the Civil War. However, you would never know this to read most history books on the war. Perhaps no other general in American history has been more severely misrepresented and unfairly attacked than George McClellan.


Most Civil War historians contend that McClellan was indecisive, overly cautious, petty, vain, vindictive, and secretive, and that he repeatedly squandered golden opportunities for victory.  Some critics even claim that he was emotionally unstable and that he opposed the abolition of slavery.  The smearing of McClellan began during the war and continues to this day. 


However, in the last two decades there has been a growing amount of pushback against the traditional portrayal of McClellan.  Scholars like Thomas Rowland, Ethan Rafuse, Joseph Harsh, Gene Thorp, Tom Clemens, and Edward Hagerman, among others, have produced credible research that answers McClellan’s critics and that paints a positive picture of him as a combat commander.  For example, new research has proven that McClellan reacted quickly and capably after the discovery of Robert E. Lee’s lost order before the Battle of Antietam, and that McClellan notified Lincoln about the lost order via telegraph at midnight, not noon (see the articles on this subject linked in “The Smearing of General George B. McClellan”).


McClellan has always had his defenders.  Pro-McClellan writers were somewhat sparse from around 1920 through the early 1990s.  But in the first few decades after the war, McClellan had a number of able defenders.  They were still in the minority among Civil War authors, but they wrote some very good defenses of McClellan. 


This article will present statements from eight of McClellan’s early defenders: Allan Pinkerton, George Armstrong Custer, Fitz-John Porter, Hiram Ketchum, George Curtis, William H. Powell, Louis Philippe Albert, and James Havelock Campbell.  Their statements will address such issues as McClellan’s alleged slowness and timidity, his supposed inactivity from August 1861 to March 1862, the Lincoln administration’s interference with McClellan’s army and operations, the battles fought during the Peninsula Campaign, the siege of Yorktown, McClellan’s requests for more troops, the overestimation of Confederate troop strength, the removal of McClellan from command after the Seven Days Battles, McClellan’s efforts to aid General Pope in the weeks leading up to the Battle of Second Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam and McClellan’s decision not to resume the attack the next day, McClellan’s need for supplies after Antietam, the final removal of McClellan from command, the army’s reaction to his final dismissal, and McClellan’s letters to his wife.


Statements from McClellan’s Early Defenders




Allan Pinkerton was the head of the Union Intelligence Service from 1861 to 1862. He strongly defended McClellan’s military skills, patriotism, and character in his memoir The Spy of the Rebellion, which he wrote in 1883. As the chief of intelligence, Pinkerton served with the Army of the Potomac and had firsthand knowledge of McClellan’s character and military performance.


McClellan’s Alleged “Inactivity” in Washington from August 1861 to March 1862


"How do you account for General McClellan's “masterly inactivity” during all these months that his army lay at Washington?” is asked. Ah, there is the mistake. It was anything but inactivity, and it is beginning to be pretty generally understood now what he was doing at that time.


More than one writer on the campaigns of the Civil War, has taken occasion to say that the splendid achievements of the Army of the Potomac at subsequent periods, and under other commanders, were mainly due to the careful drilling and the rigid discipline inculcated under McClellan. At the time he was called to the command of the army it was nothing better than a band of disorganized men, who had not recovered from the defeat of Bull Run, and whatever efficiency it attained, was accomplished by the indefatigable efforts of General McClellan and the officers under his command. . . .


The community did not seem to consider, or to understand, that it was necessary to spend so much time in drilling the troops and making elaborate preparations for the field. But the commanding officer was too good a general to imitate the impetuous actions of his predecessors, and to make an aggressive campaign with raw and undisciplined troops. It was in consequence of this, that months were spent in the patient and persistent task of properly organizing, drilling and equipping his men for the field, and in the spring of 1862, when the army did move, in the language of the General, it was one “from which much was to be expected.” (The Spy of the Rebellion, University of Nebraska Press, 1989, reprint of 1883 edition, pp. 460-462)


McClellan’s Strategy and Confederate Withdrawal from Yorktown; the Battle of Williamsburg; Peninsula Advance


McClellan's vigorous preparations, however, for a protracted siege [at Yorktown], had decided the rebels that it would be useless to risk a battle here, and they consequently determined to evacuate the place, which they did on the fifth of May, and by noon of the same day McClellan's army had broken camp and was in full pursuit. With such celerity did he make his movements, and so closely did he press the Confederates, that on the following day they were compelled to make a stand, and here was fought the battle of Williamsburg, in which the rebels were defeated, and continued their retreat towards Richmond.


The Army of the Potomac now continued its advance, with all the rapidity the terrible condition of the roads would permit, having for its base of supplies the York River, until two weeks later it rested between the Pamunkey and the Chickahominy. . . . (The Spy of the Rebellion, pp. 446-447)


Washington Cabal Against McClellan; Unfair Attacks; Sabotaging McClellan’s Operations


There can be no doubt of the fact, that the young commander-in-chief [McClellan] was subjected to the persecutions of the most malignant political intriguers, who feared that his growing popularity would result in political exaltation. Taking advantage of the fact, therefore, that General McClellan was an avowed Democrat, a scheming cabal was working to weaken his influence with the people by vague insinuations against his loyalty to the Union cause. To further that end, his plans, so carefully and intelligently matured, for the speedy crushing of the rebellion, were either totally disregarded by an unfriendly cabinet, or were so frequently thwarted, that to successfully carry them out was an utter impossibility.


As I have always been a faithful adherent of the maxim, “speak the truth, though the heavens fall,” and believing it to be a doctrine, that if practically carried, will right all wrongs, uphold the innocent, administer censure where deserved, and praise where it is due, I have invariably attempted to form my judgment of my fellow men upon their own intrinsic merits.


Whatever may have been his faults as a man, his mistakes as a General, he was throughout unflinchingly loyal to the cause of the North. With him it was but one sentiment, and one ambition — to whip the rebels into subjection — and manfully did he perform his duty toward the accomplishment of that object.


Much of the censure which has been heaped upon him and his conduct as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, is due to a hasty and inconsiderate judgment of the man and his motives, or the result of direct prejudice and ill-will. In the eyes of his critics his great fault lay in what they considered his inexcusable delay in moving against the enemy in the Spring of 1862, after, as they supposed, he had ample time to prepare his army for the field.


From this point began the open and unfriendly criticisms which were designed to excite an impatient people, who did not, and could not, understand why active operations were not at once begun. This delay was adroitly used by scheming politicians to cast the shadow of disloyalty upon a man, who never for one moment entertained a disloyal thought, nor performed a single action which he did not believe would redound to the credit and honor of the Union troops, and of the Government which he served.


My acquaintance with General McClellan began before the war, and when he was the Vice-President of the Illinois Central Railroad. That corporation had, on frequent occasions, employed my services in various operations affecting their interests, and in this way I first met and became associated with the General. From this date began my warm regard for the man, which during the many years that have passed, has known no diminution. . . .


Notwithstanding all that has been said and written upon this subject, I have no hesitation in expressing the opinion, that had not the President and his advisors, stood in such ungrounded fear for the safety of Washington, and had not withheld McDowell's forces at a time when their absence was a most serious blow to the plans of General McClellan, the close of the year would have seen the Rebellion crushed, and the war ended. . . .


The Union army was before Yorktown. McClellan had already sustained two serious disappointments, and both of them at the hands of the government at Washington. In the first place, on his arrival at Fort Monroe, he had ascertained that the promised assistance of the navy could not be relied upon in the least, and that their efficient cooperation with him would be an utter impossibility. This interference with his plans might have been overcome, although the loss of the naval support was a serious misfortune to him; but a more surprising and disheartening act of the authorities was yet in store for him. A few days later, he was thunderstruck at the unexpected information that General McDowell’s entire corps, upon whose assistance he had confidently relied, was detached from his command, and had been ordered to remain in front of Washington, for the protection of the capital, which was erroneously believed to be in imminent danger of capture by the rebels. . . . (The Spy of the Rebellion, pp. 458-461, 463-464, 542-543)


McClellan’s Alleged “Slowness” in Moving Up the Potomac; the Battle of Antietam; the Decision Not to Renew Attack on September 18 at Antietam; the Government’s Treatment of McClellan


Some writers have animadverted freely upon the alleged “slowness“ of McClellan’s movements up the Potomac, and his “delay “in offering battle to Lee before the latter had time to unite his army and occupy the strong position he held at Antietam; but they persistently ignore the fact that the dispatches from the commander-in-chief at Washington, to McClellan in the field, from the 7th to the 16th of September, were filled with cautions against a too hasty advance, and the consequent impropriety of exposing Washington to an attack. Indeed, it seems evident to me, when I regard the career of the Army of the Potomac, that had those in power in Washington been less concerned for their own safety, and trusted more to the skill and sagacity of the general in the field to direct its movements, the history of that army would have been widely different. . . .


The next morning, at early dawn, the battle commenced, and raged with unabated fury until nightfall, when the rebels withdrew, and our soldiers slept that night upon a dearly won, yet decisively victorious field. McClellan determined not to renew the attack upon the following day [September 18], for which his critics have censured him severely; yet, I am satisfied, that not a few writers, who have fought, on paper, the battle of Antietam, just as it should have been fought in their own estimation, have not, in a single instance, given the subject more painful and anxious thought than did the General himself, during all that night, while his weary troops lay resting on their arms, on a field covered with their own and their enemy’s dead.


No better reasons can be assigned, and. indeed, none better need be given for the course he pursued, than he, himself, has stated in his own report of that battle. He says: “I am aware of the fact, that, under ordinary circumstances, a General is expected to risk a battle if he has a reasonable prospect of success; but at this critical juncture, I should have had a narrow view of the condition of the country, had I been willing to hazard another battle with less than an absolute assurance of success. At that moment, Virginia lost, Washington menaced, Maryland invaded, the National cause could afford no risks of defeat. One battle lost, and almost all would have been lost. Lee’s army might then have marched as it pleased on Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, or New York. It could have levied its supplies from a fertile and undevastated country, extorted tribute from wealthy and populous cities, and nowhere east of the Alleghanies was there another organized force able to arrest its march."


The day after the battle, however, General McClellan gave orders for a renewal of the attack on the morning of the nineteenth; but when morning dawned, it was discovered that the rebels had suddenly abandoned their position and retreated across the river, leaving nearly three thousand of their unburied dead on the late field of battle. Thirteen guns, thirty-nine colors, upwards of fifteen thousand stand of small arms, and more than six thousand prisoners, were taken in the battles of South Mountain, Crampton's Gap, and Antietam, while not a single gun or color was lost by our troops in any of these encounters. . . .


It may be safely asserted, that no General in the history of the Nation was ever so shamefully treated by his government, as was General McClellan. With a brave and noble devotion, and with a self-sacrificing love for his country and her flag, he fearlessly offered his life and his services in sustaining the honor of the one, and the perpetuity of the other. (The Spy of the Rebellion, pp. 565-566, 569-571)




Nearly everyone has heard of George Armstrong Custer because of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where Custer made his famous “Last Stand” against a large force of American Indians.  However, many people do not know that Custer fought with the Army of the Potomac, that he served on McClellan’s staff, that he and McClellan became friends, and that Custer fiercely defended McClellan’s character and military performance for the rest of his life.


Custer, as quoted by his biographer Frederick Whittaker, noted that McClellan correctly predicted that the Confederates would abandon their positions in Centreville and Manassas once McClellan moved his army to the Peninsula to menace Richmond.


McClellan’s Strategy and the Confederate Abandonment of Centreville and Manassas; Defense and Safety of Washington


Continuing his narrative of facts, we quote now from the last paper ever furnished by Custer to his publishers. It was written while on his march toward the foe that slew him, and was not received till some days after the news of his death.


In endeavoring, says Custer, to quiet the anxious fears of President Lincoln in regard to a movement of the Confederate army at Manassas against Washington after the transfer to the Peninsula of the Army of the Potomac, McClellan assured him that the latter movement would of itself be the surest and quickest method as well as the one involving the least loss of life by which the enemy would be forced to abandon his fortified positions at Centreville and Manassas, and thus free Washington from the menace of attack.


This opinion was promptly verified by the course adopted by the Confederate leader, General Joseph E. Johnston. No sooner did he learn of the contemplated transfer of the Army of the Potomac to the Lower Chesapeake, than he evacuated every fortified position in front of Washington, and retired toward Richmond; and McClellan truly remarked afterward that at no former period was southern Virginia so completely in our possession, and the vicinity of Washington free from the presence of the enemy. The ground so gained was not lost, nor Washington again put in danger, until the enemy learned that orders had been sent to the Army of the Potomac to evacuate the Peninsula [against McClellan’s wishes], and thus leave them free to move directly toward Washington, which they did at once, and again seriously menaced the national capital. (A Complete Life of General George A. Custer, New York: Sheldon & Company, 1876, pp. 96-97)


Custer defended McClellan in a letter to his half-sister Lydia Ann Reed two days after the Battle of Antietam:


From Baltimore I went to Washington by railroad. Here I learned that General McClellan would establish his headquarters in Washington in three or four days, and concluded to await his arrival rather than to meet him at Alexandria. After staying in Washington about two weeks we set out upon the present campaign, which has lasted about fifteen days, during which time more has been accomplished than during any previous period of the same length. We have fought three battles [the battles of South Mountain, Crampton’s Gap, and Antietam], one of which [Antietam] was the greatest battle ever fought on this continent, and in all were victorious. General McClellan, after quietly submitting to the cowardly attacks of his enemies, has by his last campaign in Maryland, placed it beyond the power of his lying enemies to injure him, but what is remarkable, his enemies are all to be found among those who from lack of patriotism, or from cowardice, and in some cases from both causes combined, have remained at home instead of coming forward and fighting for their country. (Letter from George Custer to Lydia Reed, September 21, 1862, in Whittaker, A Complete Life of General George A. Custer, p. 129)




General Fitz-John Porter was one of McClellan’s best corps commanders.  In an 1878 statement, he reported that General McClellan expedited his arrival to General John Pope’s army well before the Battle of Second Bull Run began, and he argued that if McClellan’s army had been allowed to continue its march toward Richmond, Lee would not have attacked Pope’s army at Second Bull Run in the first place.


McClellan’s Army Placed Under Pope’s Control; McClellan Expedited Movement of Porter’s Corps to Pope


In August, 1862, my command, the Fifth Army Corps, was at Harrison's Landing, James River, and formed part of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General McClellan.


Early in the month I was informed by General McClellan that the Army of the Potomac would be moved to the Rappahannock to cooperate with the Army of Virginia under General Pope. . . .


On the 16th [August], at Williamsburg, where I was ordered to wait the arrival and passage through me of the Army of the Potomac, in order to cover as rear guard its movements from any attack east of the Chickahominy. I learned from intercepted letters and reliable sources that all of the Confederate available forces (even stripping the defenses for the purpose) had been sent from Richmond and its vicinity to crush General Pope, then south of the Rappahannock, before he could be reinforced.


I telegraphed the facts to General Halleck at Washington, and to General McClellan on the Chickahominy, adding to the latter that, as our army was withdrawing unmolested everywhere, I should, if not forbidden, push to Fort Monroe and embark for Aquia Creek, my purpose being to cooperate with General Pope in pursuance of the information previously given to me by General McClellan, that the Army of the Potomac was to cooperate with the Army of Virginia under General Pope. I also telegraphed to Fort Monroe, and sent an officer to prepare for immediate and rapid embarkation. My action, approved by General McClellan at Fort Monroe, expedited by at least two days the embarkation of the army, and my corps joined General Pope at least four days earlier than if I had conformed to orders. . . . (Statement of General Fitz-John Porter: Services of the Fifth Army Corps, in Northern Virginia, in 1862, Library of Congress, 1878, pp. 3-4)


Decision to Abandon the Peninsula; General Pope’s Defeat


General Halleck and the Secretary of War put no confidence in my report of the enemy marching on General Pope, and construed my motive, as General Halleck afterwards said to me, to be “the desire to retain the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula, and General McClellan in command." It is true that the effect of my dispatch to General Halleck should have been the turning of our steps towards Richmond, instead of continuing the march from that city. Such retention and advance of the army on the Peninsula, would, it is fair to assume, probably, have recalled General Lee to Richmond and have prevented, at that time, the unfortunate termination of General Pope's campaign.


I willingly acknowledge that I was not among those who favored the removal of our army from before Richmond — thus to relieve our opponents' capital from the burdens and dangers of a siege and take them upon ourselves at Washington. But my opinion was never asked, and when the orders of my superiors reached me, I sought without discussion or hesitation how best to execute them. (Statement of General Fitz-John Porter: Services of the Fifth Army Corps, in Northern Virginia, in 1862, Library of Congress, 1878, pp. 3-5)


HIRAM KETCHUM (1864)           


Hiram Ketchum was a New York attorney. In 1864 he wrote General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. Among other things, he discussed Lincoln’s mistake of sending part of McDowell’s corps to the Shenandoah Valley to chase Jackson instead of sending the corps to join with McClellan to begin the siege of Richmond. He argued that Lincoln could have reinforced McClellan’s army without endangering the capital.


McDowell’s Desire to Join McClellan; McDowell and McClellan’s Recognition that McDowell Corps Should Be Joined with McClellan’s Army; Jackson Sent to Shenandoah in Hope of Causing Washington Not to Reinforce McClellan


But after Gen. McClellan had moved with the army to Fortress Monroe, and written to McDowell that his corps should be the last to move, the President became apprehensive that if his command should go down below, the enemy might take advantage of the defenseless condition of Washington, and while our forces were going against Richmond, they might come against Washington. The President therefore ordered that McDowell's force should remain for the defense of the capital; it did not move to Yorktown as promised. General McDowell testifies without reservation, that he personally used no influence, nor in any way sought to be detached from Gen. McClellan's command. He remained to act purely on the defensive, for the defense of the capital. He afterwards, upon inquiry of the Secretary of War, ascertained that it would be within the scope of his defensive instructions to go to Fredericksburg. At Fredericksburg he could act for the defense of the capital. This was a decision of the War Department; let not this decision be forgotten. In accordance with this decision, McDowell went down opposite Fredericksburg, and afterwards, by permission of the War Department, put a small force, merely for a defensive purpose, across the Rappahannock into Fredericksburg, After lying some time in that city, the General received information that the President intended to give him authority to move down upon Richmond whenever Gen. Shield's division should join him. This division did join him, and the two generals were upon the eve of moving towards Richmond when a telegram came announcing the raid of the rebel general Jackson up the Shenandoah Valley, Thus it is related in Mc-Dowell's testimony:


"The President, or Secretary of War in the name of the President, telegraphed to send a division up after Jackson. I did so, although I replied that it was a crushing blow to us all. The President ordered another brigade to move up there, and then another brigade, and then another regiment. And finally the President put the question to me in this way — if I did not think that, as the department commander, it was my duty to be here in Washington. I replied that I had not so thought, or I should certainly have been here; that I thought my presence was most required down below, but as there was a doubt upon the matter I would come up. I had hoped that I should not be diverted from going to Richmond." 


Gen. McDowell also informed the President, in answer to that telegram: "While I should be too late to effect any good up there, I should lose the opportunity of doing any good down below."


Just here let it be noted that Gen. McClellan testifies: "When I heard of the advance of Jackson upon Gen. Banks, I telegraphed to the President that I believed the intention to be simply to prevent reinforcements being sent to me. I had no idea it meant a serious threat upon Washington."


It is thus evident, without referring to other testimony, that General McDowell desired that his command should, in the first instance, go to Yorktown, and secondly that he should march from Fredericksburg to Richmond. As military men, McClellan and McDowell concurred in judgment as to the steps to be taken for the capture of Richmond. The alarm of the President for the safety of Washington prevented the taking of these steps. The next inquiry is, Was there any foundation for this alarm? This inquiry shall be pursued in my next. (General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, New York, 1864. pp. 5-7)


Disposition of McDowell’s Corps; Continuing the Advance on Richmond; the Safety of Washington


The question now to be discussed is, Could McClellan have been sent to Richmond without endangering the safety of Washington? We have seen Generals McClellan and McDowell concur in the opinion that it could. The question was one to be decided by military men. I cannot find that this question was put by the committee [the JCCW] to any witness, who from his military knowledge and experience was presumed capable of giving a reliable opinion — the opinion of an expert.


The question should have been thus framed: "Suppose the command of General McDowell was necessary to assure the taking of Richmond, could it have been sent either to Yorktown when McClellan went to that place, or afterwards to Hanover Court House to unite with Porter, without endangering the capital?" What must have been the answer to that question? In the first place, the strength of the enemy, and the force at his command, which under all the circumstances, he would probably bring against the capital, would have been considered. The command of McDowell, say 35,000 strong, it was proposed to send to Richmond. If it had been sent, the fact would have been well known to the enemy, and this would have compelled him to employ a larger force to defend Richmond.


We know from reliable testimony that the enemy expected the junction of McDowell and Porter on the 26th of May, and McDowell's failure to come was ascribed by the enemy to a treasonable omission of duty on his part. The junction of those two commands would in the judgment of the enemy have resulted in the capture of Richmond. The testimony of the Prussian officer, then in the rebel service at Richmond, may be relied on for this statement. Assuming, then, that McDowell had moved down to Richmond, what force could the rebels have spared to assail Washington? Certainly not a large one, probably none at all.


Then, secondly, what were the resources of the government for the defense of Washington, if McDowell's 35,000 troops had been sent to Richmond? I aver, without fear of contradiction, that if when McClellan went down to Fortress Monroe in March 1862, or at any other time up to the first of June in that year, the President had seen fit to write the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, throwing out all the other loyal New England States, and New Jersey, that he had been obliged to send away so large a force to assist in the capture of Richmond, that fifty thousand men would be required in the fortifications at Washington to make a perfect defense of the capital, that number, most of them well-disciplined, well-drilled, and well-appointed troops, would have been in the capital in less than ten days from the date of the call, ready for immediate service. I know that 10,000 of this number from the city of New York alone would have responded to such a call in less than one week.


There did come a call for troops from the War Department in the latter part of May. It was received by the 7th on the 26th day of that month, the day before the capture of Hanover Court House, in the evening of that day, Sunday, and on Tuesday morning this regiment, fully armed and equipped, fit for immediate service, was in Baltimore; the 22nd New York was there the next day, and several other regiments followed within a few days, when there came an order countermanding the call for troops, much to the disappointment and chagrin of other regiments in this city desirous and eager to march. It was not in this city only, but in Boston and elsewhere, that this disappointment was felt. I have spoken of troops not actually in the field, whose services could have been commanded by the government in an emergency for the defense of the capital. (General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, pp. 7-8)




George Curtis was an attorney, an abolitionist, and the author of several books on American history.  As a lawyer, he was on the legal team that represented the runaway slave Dred Scott in the famous Dred Scott v. Sandford case before the Supreme Court.  In 1880 Curtis wrote a long three-part defense of McClellan for The North American Review titled “McClellan’s Last Service to the Republic.”  In 1886 Curtis took this material and made it into a book with the same title. 


Among other things, Curtis talked about the negative impact of Lincoln’s decision to withhold McDowell’s corps from McClellan, McClellan’s move to the James River at the end of the Seven Days Battles, and McClellan’s effort to get Lincoln to send him reinforcements so he could resume his advance on Richmond.  Curtis noted McClellan’s strenuous efforts to get Lincoln, Stanton, and Halleck to send him reinforcements and the correctness of McClellan’s point that the best way to defend Washington was to continue to advance on Richmond.  Curtis also discussed at length the fact that McClellan was unable to move into Virginia to pursue Lee after the Battle of Antietam because his army was extremely low on critical supplies, and that McClellan’s enemies in Washington accused him of stalling and falsely claimed that he had all the supplies he needed. Curtis further noted that McClellan began to move his army into Virginia soon after he finally received adequate supplies.


The Negative Consequences of Failing to Reinforce McClellan and McClellan’s Efforts to Get Lincoln to Send Him More Troops


On the 26th, the day upon which McClellan had fixed for his final advance, although the reinforcements which he had so earnestly and repeatedly called for had been withheld from him, he was attacked by the enemy in strong force on his right. He was thus compelled to turn his attention to the protection of his communications and depots of supply. "This," he says in his report, "was a bitter confirmation of the military judgment which had been reiterated to my military superiors from the inception and through the progress of the Peninsular campaign." Then followed The Seven Days, through which he fought his way for a change of base to the James River, in a series of desperate conflicts, in every one of which the Confederates were baffled, until, on the night of the 3d of July, the last of the wagon-trains reached the new base at Harrison's Landing, and the wearied Army of the Potomac, which had battled with such heroic endurance under his skillful guidance, rested in security, protected by their own batteries and the gunboats which lay in the river.


The three following days were occupied by McClellan in strengthening and guarding his position, and in a fruitless telegraphic correspondence with the President, to convince the latter that reinforcements ought to be sent to him, so that he could advance on Richmond from the James. . . .


Ten days passed away, and still no decision had been made at Washington [on whether to send McClellan reinforcements so he could resume his advance on Richmond or to send his army north]. On the 28th McClellan telegraphed to Halleck, the General-in-Chief: "My opinion is more and more firm that here is the defense of Washington, and that I should be reinforced at once 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 he again telegraphed to Halleck: "I hope 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." (McClellan’s Last Service to the Republic, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886, pp. 9-10, 17)


McClellan’s Request to Renew His Advance on Richmond and Washington’s Decision to Order Him to Abandon the Advance


We must pause here to explain that, at the time of this indecision on the part of the Government, the question was whether the enemy should be attacked by McClellan advancing on Richmond, and be thereby confined to the defense of his capital, or whether he should be allowed to advance on Washington by way of Fredericksburg, thus compelling the Federal Government to defend their capital. As a military question, considering the comparative advantages of attack and defense; and the dangers that would follow from a defeat of the Federal forces in the front of Washington, there was not much room for doubt. If McClellan were to be reinforced and ordered to attack Richmond, the troops of the Confederates would have to be concentrated for its defense. If McClellan had been defeated in this attempt, his defeat must have cost the enemy so much that he could hardly have been in a condition to seriously menace Washington before a sufficient force could have been interposed for its defense. McClellan, be it observed, did not ask for all the forces that were at the disposal of his Government; he asked for all that were "available," which he explained to mean "everything that we can possibly spare from less important points" — a meaning that the military authorities in Washington must have understood. On the other hand, if McClellan's army were to be withdrawn from the James, the enemy would be practically invited to advance on Washington; and, if he should defeat the Federal armies gathered in front of that capital, it would be in a great peril. A vast deal, too, would depend upon the commander who was to be entrusted with the defense of Washington, in case the Army of the Potomac should be withdrawn from the James, thus encouraging the enemy to stake his utmost efforts upon a great battle, or a series of battles, in front of the Federal capital.


At the time when this momentous decision was to be made by our Government, they contemplated a reliance upon General Pope to encounter General Lee; and to encounter Lee, not after he had been crippled by a previous contest with McClellan, but in the full strength which would remain to him without that contest. It is impossible, therefore, to read McClellan's dispatches at this period of the President's indecision, without being impressed by the conviction that McClellan was right in his military judgment, even if we do not look forward to what actually followed. The elements for a sound determination were as patent to the authorities in Washington, between the 10th of July and the 6th of August, as they were to McClellan. But, unfortunately, other counsels prevailed over his.


Between the 30th of July and the 3d of August the enemy made some attempts to feel McClellan's position, by demonstrations with light batteries, but they were driven back toward Petersburg, and Coggin's Point, on the south side of the James, was occupied on the same day by McClellan, and fortified. On that day also he sent forward a force of cavalry on the south side of the river, which drove back a body of five hundred of the enemy's cavalry in confusion. His whole position on the James was now therefore secure, and he was in a condition to advance, if he could have Burnside, whom he again asked for on the 2d of August. "Give me Burnside," he telegraphed to Halleck, "and I will stir these people up."


On the 30th of July the Government was apparently still undecided, but, from the tenor of Halleck's dispatches of that day and the next, McClellan had some reason to expect orders to advance on Richmond. Thus on the 30th Halleck sent two dispatches. The first said: "A dispatch just received from General 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 pressed in that direction, so as to ascertain the facts of the case." But again, on the 30th, Halleck telegraphed, rather ambiguously: "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." And, on the 31st, Halleck telegraphed, "General Pope again telegraphs that the enemy is reported to be evacuating Richmond, and falling back on Danville and Lynchburg." These were the only data McClellan then had, from which to form an opinion as to the intentions of the Government. They had, in fact, at this time, no fixed intentions, but the dispatches looked as if McClellan might be allowed to advance.


On the 4th of August, General Hooker, by General McClellan's orders, advanced with a large force to Malvern Hill, a strong position of the Confederates fourteen and three quarter miles distant from Richmond, and drove the forces of the enemy back toward New Market. Malvern Hill controlled the direct approach to Richmond; It was equally necessary to occupy it, for a time, whether Richmond was to be attacked by McClellan from the James, or whether he was to be ordered to abandon the Peninsula. On the 5th McClellan was himself at Malvern Hill, and thence he telegraphed to Halleck at 1 p.m.: "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 could march this army there in five days." To this there came the answer from Halleck, on the 6th, " I have no reinforcements to send you." (McClellan’s Last Service to the Republic, pp. 17-21)


Lack of Critical Supplies and Washington’s Long Delay in Resupplying McClellan’s Army After Antietam


The battle of Antietam had been fought and won, on the 17th of September, 1862. General Lee had retreated across the Potomac on the night of the 18th. General McClellan, for reasons which we have detailed in our former paper, had determined that in the condition of his army after the battle an immediate advance into the enemy's country was impracticable; and, moreover, he had reached the utmost limit from which, according to the only order that he then held, he could be justified in offensive movements. He had fought the battle of Antietam for the defense of Washington; in command of “the troops for the defense of the capital," as the order of September 2d was framed; and even by this construction of his authority he had taken upon himself a vast responsibility. The President, on the 1st of October, had visited the scene of the battle, learned the exhausted and destitute condition of the army, told General McClellan that he should not be ordered to move until he was ready, and voluntarily promised that he should be continued in command.


There now arose a very extraordinary condition of things. A general was in the field, at the head of an army of nearly one hundred thousand men, awaiting orders. But that army needed indispensable supplies, before it could be put in motion in pursuit of the enemy, and many of its departments required reorganization. It had, too, to perform the duty of guarding the passes of a long reach of the Potomac against a new invasion of Maryland and a sudden descent upon Washington. The higher officials at the seat of Government, who had the control of military affairs, began at an early period after the battle of Antietam to call in question the truth of General McClellan's representations, that he was not receiving the supplies which he needed to enable him to execute an order to advance into the enemy's country, where he could not anticipate that his march would not be opposed. Under all ordinary circumstances, a government would unhesitatingly accept the representations of a general in the field, situated as McClellan then was, respecting the condition of his army and the possibility of an advance. Of all the military men who were in high commands during any part of our late war, McClellan was peculiarly fitted to know at all times the condition of his troops. His accomplishments as an organizer were very remarkable; his habits of attention to the wants of his troops were unceasing; and he never relaxed his vigilant oversight of details of a minute character. Nor were his ability and judgment as a strategist inferior to his powers as an organizer. All this was well known to the authorities in Washington. Without the existence, therefore, of some very extraordinary reason, furnishing a motive, good or bad, for not trusting General McClellan as Mr. Lincoln had voluntarily promised on the field of Antietam to trust him, it is very difficult to account for the fact that an issue was gotten up in the counsels at Washington respecting the truth of General McClellan's representations of the condition of his army.


From the 11th to the 28th of October, General McClellan constantly complained in his dispatches that his requisitions for supplies had not been met, so as to render it practicable for him to advance into the enemy's country upon an aggressive campaign. It is well known that there has been an assertion, transmitted from that day to this, that everything which he had asked for had been forwarded; and it has been charged that it was in consequence of a constitutional indecision and want of vigor that he did not cross the Potomac in pursuit of Lee at least as early as the 10th of October. Perhaps one half of the nation today believe this to be true, because it was officially asserted. It is certainly untrue. The question is a question of fact, to be judged upon evidence; and to be judged upon principles of belief such as we apply to any disputed matter of history. In that manner we shall examine this assertion.


We have presented to our readers, from President Lincoln's own lips, indubitable proof that the army was in no condition to move on the 1st of October. We shall now descend into details, and shall show that General McClellan was right in saying, as he did in his report, that, down to the 28th of October, his army still lacked the very supplies which were essential to any general movement of its corps. The imperative wants of the army, after the battle of Antietam, were very numerous. Persons who are not professionally acquainted with such matters can not easily conceive of the kinds and quantities of things with which an army in active operations must be constantly supplied. We conceive of the soldier as a man whose wants have been systematically reduced to the minimum that is consistent with his efficiency. He stands before our imaginations well and appropriately clad, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, and with his musket, his knapsack, his ammunition-belt, and his canteen. All superfluities are discarded, and he bears on his person nothing that is not absolutely needful to his vocation, and everything that is needful in the best possible condition. But the vast materiel with which the field depots of an army must be constantly filled, in order to keep this human machine, the soldier, in marching or fighting condition, and provide for him when he is wounded or sick, we can bring before us only by an effort of the mind, applied to practical details. We must think of the supply-trains and the thousands of draught-animals required to serve them, and to serve the artillery, and of the horses of a higher class to remount the cavalry. We must think of clothing, and food, and forage; of hospital stores, of shelter-tents, of ammunition, of tools for entrenching purposes, of mechanical implements for all the manifold uses of a great multitude of men who can safely depend for nothing that is wanted upon the country around them. We must remember, too, that nothing is so destructive as war; that in a single battle a well-equipped army, even if victorious, may be reduced to a state bordering on destitution; and that a long and hurried march of troops may strip them of indispensable supplies if they get beyond the base from which their supplies are to come. Recollecting these things, we may be prepared to examine the wants of General McClellan's army after the battle of Antietam, not forgetting the important fact that it had been taken up by him after the defeat at the second Bull Run, in a condition of great derangement, and had been employed in marching or fighting from the 3d to the 17th of September, in which two weeks Maryland had been freed from the presence of the enemy and Washington had been saved.


The principal wants of this army, after the battle of Antietam, consisted of horses and forage, ammunition and food, and shoes and clothing for the men. Whenever an order might come to General McClellan enlarging the sphere of his operations and bidding him advance across the Potomac, he could be in no condition to obey it unless these indispensable wants of his army had been supplied. Horses, forage, ammunition, and food came forward slowly; but without shoes and clothing no army could be moved, and the deficiencies of this army in shoes and clothing continued to be enormous down to a very late period after the order of October 6th to cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy or drive him south was received. The reports of the army quartermasters, made to General McClellan's headquarters between the 15th and the 25th of October, leave no possible room for doubt that between those dates large bodies of the army were so destitute of shoes, clothing, and other indispensable supplies, that a general movement was impossible before it commenced. The chief quartermaster, Colonel Ingalls, reported on the 10th, four days after the date of the President's order to advance, “The suffering and impatience are excessive"; and unless we suppose that he and the corps commanders, and the division and regimental quartermasters, were all engaged in a common conspiracy with General McClellan to misrepresent the condition of the troops, we must accept their statements as true.


Some of the corps commanders sent their wagon-trains repeatedly on long journeys to the depots where the supplies should have been, and the wagons came back empty. Even on the 30th, after the movement across the Potomac began, some of the corps had not received their supplies, and did not receive them until they were crossing the river. Of course, it is entirely immaterial what may have appeared on the books or records of the Quartermaster-General's office in Washington in regard to the supplies ordered for the Army of the Potomac. The sole question is, When were they delivered at the depots of the army in southwestern Maryland, sixty or seventy miles from Washington? No one must lose sight of and no one must be permitted to obscure the issue: and it must not be forgotten that it was the duty of the authorities in Washington not only to order the supplies, but to cause them to be placed where they were wanted.


General McClellan's report contains a tabular statement of clothing and equipage received at the different depots of the Army of the Potomac, from the 1st of September to the 31st of October. It will be remembered that the battles of South Mountain and Antietam had been fought before the 1st of October. In whatever condition the army may have left Washington between the 3d and the 7th of September, the supplies received before or during those battles could not have made up the deficiencies caused by the marching and fighting of the two weeks prior to the 18th of September, the day on which Lee's army was withdrawn into Virginia. The tabular statement above referred to shows that by far the greater bulk of most of the enumerated articles reached the depots of the army between the 15th and the 25th of October. But, from the 25th to the 31st there came in, of the single article “boots," 20,040, being 6,240 more than were received prior to the 25th. Of "bootees," there were received 52,900, between October 15th and 25th, being 43,900 more than were received before the 15th. Of "stockings," there came in, between the 15th and the 25th, 65,200; and between the 25th and the 31st, 30,000; being 95,200 received since October 15th, and amounting to 66,975 more than had been received prior to the 15th. A comparison of the other articles enumerated, “forage-caps," “cavalry-jackets," “canteens," “flannel shirts," “haversacks," “trousers," “coats," “shelter-tents," “camp-kettles," "mess-pans," "overcoats," “artillery-jackets," "blankets," "felt hats," “knit shirts and drawers," shows like results. There were, for example, 70,000 drawers received between the 15th and the 31st, being 42,300 more than all the supplies of this article that reached the army from the 1st of September to the 15th of October. On these facts, if we know how to deal with facts, we think our readers will concur with us in believing that Colonel Ingalls might well say on the 10th of October that the suffering and impatience were excessive; for let it be observed that these indispensable supplies, which came in so slowly, after the President's order of the 6th of October had directed a march, came, when they did come, to fill earnest and pressing requisitions upon the authorities in Washington, made continuously from the 11th to the 28th.


But we have not yet done with this branch of our subject. During the period of General McClellan's reiterated complaints that he was not receiving supplies indispensable to an advance into Virginia, the President, supposing that something was wrong, caused a step to be taken by a gentleman in whom he had entire confidence, and who was in every way qualified to ascertain the exact state of General McClellan's army. This was Colonel Thomas A. Scott, of Pennsylvania, who had been Assistant Secretary of War at a former period. From him we have obtained, through a common friend, the information given in a letter, dated at Philadelphia on the 19th of February of the present year, from which we are permitted to take the following extracts:


“I had been actively engaged, about the time of Lee's [threatened] invasion of Pennsylvania, in looking after the defenses of our own border, especially in connection with the safety of our own lines of road. In the performance of this duty, I was necessarily called to Washington a number of times, and, while there, about the middle of October, 1862, I had a conversation with Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, and President Lincoln, in regard to the delay in the movement of General McClellan's army, and its reported condition of inefficiency to effect a movement without proper and greatly needed supplies. At the request of the President and Secretary of War I went to General McClellan's headquarters, near Harper's Ferry, and stated to him the object of my visit. General McClellan then said that it was not a matter that required discussion, but that he would have Major Myers, chief quartermaster of his staff, or rather of the Army of the Potomac, show me the requisitions that had been made for supplies, and also a statement of the amount received, and that I could draw my own inferences from these data as to whether his army had been properly supplied or was in a condition to move. He stated that he was not only short of shoes, clothing, and other necessaries for the men, but he had not the horses to move his cavalry and artillery, and, notwithstanding he had requested it, he had not been authorized to procure his horses from the country where his army lay, although he felt sure that he could do so more promptly and more cheaply than the horses could be furnished from Washington.


“I said to General McClellan that both the President and the Secretary of War were under the impression that all supplies for which he had made requisitions had been furnished him, and that they could not understand why that should be given as a reason for his failing to move.


“On learning the facts I have stated, I immediately returned to Washington, saw Mr. Stanton, General Halleck, and the President, and told them the exact state of the case. Both Mr. Stanton and General Halleck then repeated their assurance that all General McClellan's requisitions had been met; and it was then suggested that, as the troops in the forts around Washington constituted a part of the Army of the Potomac, the supplies that were intended for General McClellan's army in the field, instead of having been sent to him at Harper's Ferry, had by some means or other been diverted for the use of the troops in the fortifications, and thus had failed to reach him. This proved to be the explanation of the trouble, and, in conference with the President, he requested the Secretary of War to see that the supplies needed were forwarded at once to General McClellan's army at Harper's Ferry, and also that General McClellan was given the necessary authority to make requisitions upon the country for the horses needed for his army movement. Both of these things were, of course, done instantly, and the result was that General McClellan moved his army — I think in less than a fortnight after the supplies had been forwarded.” (McClellan’s Last Service to the Republic, pp. 61-71)




William H. Powell served as a colonel in the Union army during the war and wrote a history of the Army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps in 1893.  Power had a lot to say about McClellan and his enemies. Powell argued that the Radical Republicans, especially the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and certain members of Lincoln’s cabinet, were responsible for the failure to take Richmond in 1862 because they persuaded Lincoln to impose an unwise reorganization of McClellan’s army, to appoint corps commanders against McClellan’s will, and to withhold from McClellan tens of thousands of troops that McClellan had been assured would be part of his army for the assault on Richmond.

Political Intrigue Against McClellan in Washington

In December, 1861, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was appointed, and an influence as powerful as it was injurious, was established. Through its chairman it announced its determination to break through the Constitutional barriers placed between the legislative and executive branches of the Government. . . .


Ostensibly seeking for light, while ignoring the legitimate means carefully provided to that end, with doors ever open to the malcontent and visionary, its methods fostered discontent and insubordination, offering premium and protection for jealous complaint and captious criticism. By its very organization, impotent for good, its records bear unmistakable proof of the partisan purpose and spirit of its efforts.


And so it came about that, from the "so-called Cabinet," and Congress, and Committee, a junta self-styled "the Administration," was evolved, composed of many incongruous elements held together by a purpose so to manipulate the resources tendered to the Government, by the unbounded liberality and patriotism of the loyal States, that the power it had usurped should be perpetuated by the overthrow of all who might seem to antagonize a newly-born Radical party. Its efforts were directed by skilful and experienced politicians, and by act and word Mr. Lincoln was forced to confess himself unable to withstand the influence it wielded. . . .


The General-in-chief had purposed to organize the divisions of the army into army corps, when, having taken the field, he should be able to select such division commanders as gave evidence of fitness for the greater responsibility, and he so informed the Committee on the Conduct of the War. But here again the Committee arrayed itself in opposition, and, ignoring their own objection to the untested abilities of the commander of the armies, urged upon the President, as they report, " with all the arguments in their power," the immediate adoption of the corps formation in the Army of the Potomac, in order that the troops could ''be practiced, exercised, and drilled in that formation. The absurdity of such a proposition for drill is too apparent to those acquainted with the military profession to require remark. If Congress desired corps, they should have legislated to the extent at least of providing proper rank for those who were to command them. The highest rank in the army at that time was that of major-general, whose proper command is a division. As it was, when corps were formed under the President's order, three of the four which belonged to the Army of the Potomac were commanded by brigadier-generals, whose proper commands were brigades.


Meanwhile the President had been so pressed by the demand of the junta for the removal of McClellan from command of the army, that it had practically been decided upon, when on March 8, 1862, the council of division commanders, convened by the general-in-chief, decided by a vote of eight to four to approve of the Urbana plan of campaign, and the decision of the council was at once submitted to the President for his information and encouragement. Yielding to the overwhelming verdict, Mr. Lincoln decided to retain General McClellan in command, and sanctioned the proposed movement, but modified his consent by imposing restrictions which he formulated in his General War Order No. 3, of March 8, 1862, after having by his General War Order No. 2, of the same date, without consultation with General McClellan, organized the divisions of the Army of the Potomac into four army corps, to which he assigned the commanders — three of them being officers who had voted in the council against the plan of campaign — and made some purely political assignments of officers.


At that time the communication between Washington and the Confederate authorities in Richmond was remarkably direct, and on March 9, 1862, the enemy, evidencing their appreciation of the effect of General McClellan's plan, abandoned their lines at Manassas and on the Potomac. (The Fifth Army Corps (Army of the Potomac): A Record of Operations During the Civil War in the United States of America, 1861-1865, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893, pp. 32, 34, 36-37)


Restricting McClellan’s Authority and Removing Tens of Thousands of Troops from His Army


During the preliminary movements which followed for the purpose of shaking off the winter camps, and making sure that the enemy had withdrawn behind the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, on March 12th, while at Fairfax Court-House, General McClellan was informed of the President's War Order No. 3, of March 11, 1862, which relieved him from the command of the Union armies and limited his authority to the Department of the Potomac, thus depriving him of the power to secure unity of action by the various forces in the field, which, of course, was an important point in the considerations upon which his plans had been projected.


On March 13th another council, consisting of the four commanders of army corps, was convened by General McClellan, at Fairfax Court-House. This council decided that, under the changed conditions of the field, with the cooperation of the navy, the movement to be made could best be undertaken from Fort Monroe, and that " with the forts on the right bank of the Potomac fully garrisoned and those on the left bank occupied, a covering force in front of the Virginia line of 25,000 men (about 50,000 in all) would suffice "for the protection of Washington.” The President sanctioned the change of plan, stipulating only that Manassas Junction should be made secure against any effort of the enemy to regain possession, and that Washington should be left secure. On March 31st the President wrote General McClellan:


"This morning I felt constrained to order Blenker's division to Fremont, and I write this to assure you that I did so with great pain, understanding that you would wish it otherwise. If you could know the full pressure of the case, I am confident you would justify it, even beyond the mere acknowledgment that the commander-in-chief may order what he pleases."


That the President considered this explanation to be due is his own best defense, but the most lamentable condition of the time was that he could thus claim and enforce the prerogatives of the commander-in-chief to the detriment of a subordinate held responsible for the efficiency of military operations, while confessing himself powerless to maintain those prerogatives against the illegitimate interference of secondary and antagonistic influences. . . .


General McClellan embarked with his headquarters on April 1st, and reached Fort Monroe the day following. Here he learned that the expected cooperation of the navy in the reduction of Yorktown and James River could not be had.


On March 26th, by special direction of the President, Fort Monroe and all the forces there had been placed under his orders, with the understanding that he would detach therefrom a division to be added to the First Army Corps. On April 3d these dispositions were countermanded, General McClellan's command being restricted to the Army of the Potomac, the control of his base of operations being taken out of his hands, and his contemplated force being again reduced by 10,000 men. On the same day, with the army moving into the enemy's country, and to a certainty of heavy loss by casualty and disease, while the Confederates were straining every nerve to augment and concentrate their opposing forces, the military world was electrified by the order of the Secretary of War discontinuing the recruiting service for volunteers in every State and rendering impossible the support of the army by reinforcement.


On April 4th, as the movement to the front of Yorktown began, the adjutant-general telegraphed General McClellan that, by direction of the President, the First Army Corps was detached from the Army of the Potomac and placed at the disposal of the Secretary of War, and history must record that, by this act, if no other, the Administration assumed the responsibility for whatever of failure attended the first Peninsula campaign.


No effort was made to carry out the orders General McClellan had given for the defense of Washington; no explanation of his plans was asked or modification suggested, though the city was in no way menaced, and two corps still remained in its front waiting transportation; but on the simple report of the officer in command of the city that he could not muster 20,000 men for its defense, and on the opinion of Generals Hitchcock and L. Thomas that the dispositions ordered in front of the Virginia line had not fully complied with the recommendations of the council of war, without a word of warning, he was deprived of one third of the force the council had deemed necessary to the success of the army, which, at the very moment it was thus crippled, was in contact with the enemy. On the same day General McClellan was also informed, by the adjutant-general of the army, of the creation of the Department of the Shenandoah under General Banks, and of the Department of the Rappahannock under General McDowell, which finally reduced his own territorial command to an insignificant strip between the Potomac and James rivers, bounded on the west by the Fredericksburg & Richmond Railroad, and on the east by the line defining the sixty-mile limit from Fort Monroe. (The Fifth Army Corps, pp. 37-40)


Moving Part of the Army to the Left Bank of the Chickahominy River to Open the Way for McDowell’s Delayed Arrival; the Battle of Hanover Courthouse


On the 11th of May, 1862, the James River was opened to the Union fleets by the destruction of the rebel ram Merrimac. At 9 a.m. of that date General McClellan congratulated the Secretary of War and urged the immediate ascent of the river by the Union ironclads and gunboats, because " this would enable me [him] to make our [his] movements more decisive." That his military instinct demanded the immediate movement of his army to the James River as a base cannot be doubted. The fact was recognized when General Wool telegraphed him, on May 12th: "Your flank will be protected on the James River. A small detachment will answer for Yorktown. I want all my troops." Nevertheless, May 21st found the army in position facing Richmond from the left bank of the Chickahominy River. On the right wing, Franklin's corps was posted three miles from New Bridge, with the Fifth Corps in rear and support. Sumner's corps across the railroad, near Turner's Mills, held the centre, and Keyes' corps on the New Kent road, near Bottom's Bridge, with Heintzelman's corps in support, guarded the left. This disposition had been imposed by information received May 18th, from the Secretary of War, that General McDowell, with his command of 40,000 men, had been ordered to move southwest from Fredericksburg to a connection with the right wing of the Army of the Potomac, which was ordered to be extended to the north of Richmond in cooperation with the movement. . . .


On the morning of this same day [May 23], the President had informed General McClellan that General McDowell expected to commence his supporting movement on May 26th, without fail. At 5 p.m., however, under pressure of the influences surrounding him, he suspended the order for the advance, and half of McDowell's force, notwithstanding his protest, was diverted in a futile effort to capture the command with which Jackson absorbed the attention and demonstrated the timidity of the regnant authority. But, though suspended, the order for the southward movement was not revoked, and cooperation, as ordered, was still obligatory upon General McClellan. Pending developments, work was being prosecuted upon bridges across the Chickahominy with such vigor as was permitted by constant and heavy rain, when information was received, on May 26th, that the enemy had fallen back from the front of Fredericksburg and that General McDowell's advance was eight miles south of the Rappahannock River. At the same time, the presence of a considerable force of the enemy at Hanover Court-House was reported. . . .


These commands, numbering some 12,000 men, constituted a serious menace to McClellan's flank, as well as obstacle in the way of McDowell's advance.


As the army moved from the Pamunkey. General Porter had been charged with the duty of clearing the country of the enemy up to or beyond Hanover Court-House, and of making such dispositions as would guard the approaches to the rear of the right wing; and further, with breaking the enemy's communication with Northern Virginia by the line of the Virginia Central Railroad. A portion of this duty had been accomplished by Warren's provisional brigade, which, from its camps at Old Church, had destroyed the bridges along the Pamunkey as far as was deemed prudent, and on May 26th General Porter was directed to move at daylight next day to Hanover Court-House, to open the way for McDowell. . . .


The results obtained [in the Battle of Hanover Courthouse]: increased efficiency and morale in the command thus brought into action as a body; the defeat of Branch's brigade, with the loss of about 200 killed, 200 wounded, and 730 prisoners, and its camp and equipment; the capture of one gun and caisson and a large number of small-arms; the capture and destruction of two railroad trains loaded with military stores; and the security afforded the right wing of the Union army by the complete withdrawal of Anderson's command to Richmond. The obstruction of the crossings of the Pamunkey and South Anna rivers, under the orders received, severed the communications of the enemy with Northern Virginia, but also placed impediments in the way of the otherwise unopposed advance of the First Corps to the front.


The unmilitary policy of the capitalists [certain Republicans in Congress and in Lincoln’s cabinet] now constituted the only serious obstacle in the way to victory. Inconsistency and apprehension ignored the proffered opportunity until, too late, a feeble compromise was attempted in the transfer of a single division of the promised cooperative force. (The Fifth Army Corps, pp. 59-61, 63, 68-69)


Overestimation of Confederate Troop Strength


Undoubtedly the force of the enemy defending the Richmond line was over-estimated, but history, weighing with equal balances, cannot sustain the severe criticism thereon flaunted in the after light of developed facts. Infallible military judgment and intuition are a literary vagary, while history abounds in instances of over-estimated forces. Generals R. E. Lee, Thomas J. Jackson, James Longstreet, and both the Hills sustained each other in believing and reporting that in the Fifth Corps they had encountered the main body of the Federal army on June 27, 1862. For two years the Federal Executive was so impressed and influenced by the exaggerated theories with which general apprehension threatened the national capital, that every effort of the Army of the Potomac was neutralized. At Jena, in 1806, Napoleon believed himself confronted by the entire Prussian army, and Davoust's hard-earned victory at Auerstadt was an astounding revelation. . . . (The Fifth Army Corps, p. 123)


McClellan’s Decision to Move Army to Harrison’s Landing on the James River


There remained but one course to pursue. The opinion of General J. E. B. Stuart that no other course remained open to General McClellan, after the abandonment of the White House base, but to seek a new line on the James River, is certainly as well worthy of credence as the often quoted statement of General Magruder, that, on June 27th, he should have attacked the defenses of Richmond. So seriously was the tenure of that base compromised after 2 P.M. of June 27th, that from that moment every argument urging the movement to the James River imperatively demanded recognition. History cannot concur with the criticism which sneers at the previous consideration of those arguments and the careful preparation consequently made in anticipation of the emergency. That the movement was in retreat in no way disproves its necessity or discredits its adoption and tactical conduct. Fortunately for the country, on plans wisely considered and determined in advance, the army immediately entered upon the movement which it was destined to repeat two years later with skeleton ranks and tattered standards, vindicating the judgment and attesting the faithfulness that first perceived, advocated, and occupied the line leading to the triumph of the national arms.  (The Fifth Army Corps, pp. 123-126)


Confederate Failure to Cut McClellan’s Base


Fording the river at Forge Bridge late in the day, the Confederate cavalry bivouacked for the night on the left of General Lee's lines and within sight of the Union camp fires, where their leader dreamed that the "ponderous march " of his column, "with the rolling artillery," became prime factors in causing "a sudden collapse and stampede," which next day left Malvern in Confederate hands. This record of barren activity illustrates the value of plans retained in the sole possession of the projector until the moment for execution arrives, as compared with those subjected to discussion, revision, and consequent discovery. As General Longstreet reported, "the effort to draw the enemy out by cutting his base was entirely unsuccessful." General McClellan had not conformed his movements to the expectations and wishes of the enemy. (The Fifth Army Corps, p. 128)


Timing of McClellan’s Decision to Move Army to Harrison’s Landing (aka Harrison’s Bar)


About 9 P.M., July 1st, as General Porter and Colonel Hunt were returning from the front, they were joined by Colonel A. V. Colburn, of General McClellan's staff. By Colonels Colburn and Hunt General Porter then sent messengers to the general-in-chief, explaining the situation as it appeared to him from his position at the front, and expressing the hope that no further retrograde movement would be made, since the position could be held. But food, clothing, ammunition, rest, and reinforcement were needed before the Army of the Potomac could hope to advance again upon the enemy, and. as Haxall's could be made a reliable base only by the occupation of the right bank of James River in larger force than was available, General McClellan, after personal consultation and examination of the river with Commodore Rodgers, had decided upon the movement to Harrison's Landing, and before General Porter's messages could have reached him, that officer received the following order:


"Headquarters Army of the Potomac, 9 P.M., July 1st, 1862.


"Brig.-General F. J. Porter, com'g Fifth Provisional Corps:


"General: — The General commanding desires you to move your command at once, the Artillery Reserve moving first, to Harrison's Bar. In case you should find it impossible to move your heavy artillery, you are to spike the guns and destroy the carriages. Couch's command will move under your orders. Communicate these instructions to him at once. The corps of Heintzelman and Sumner will move next. Please communicate to General Heintzelman the time of your moving. Additional gun-boats, supplies, and reinforcements will be met at Harrison's Bar. Stimulate your men by informing them that reinforcements, etc., have arrived at our new base.


"By command of Major-Gen. McClellan:


"James A. Hardie, "Lieut.-Col., A.D.C., A.A.A.G."


General Porter then sent an order to Colonel Buchanan, commanding the 1st Brigade of Regulars, directing him to so dispose his command as to hold the battlefield — the brigade being at that time on the line of battle to the right and left of the Crew house — until after daylight the next morning; that all the army would be withdrawn during the night; that Colonel Averell, with the 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry, would cooperate with him in retiring from the field. . . . (The Fifth Army Corps, pp. 177-178)


One Part of the Movement to Harrison’s Landing and the Safety Afforded by the New Location


Turkey-Island Bridge had been destroyed under orders from General Keyes, commanding the Fourth Corps. To General Keyes had been assigned the duty of protecting the rear from the high ground overlooking Haxall's. For this purpose he had the 2d Division and artillery of his corps and the 8th Pennsylvania and 8th Illinois regiments of cavalry. Under the immediate command of Colonel John J. Peck, Wessell's brigade, supported by batteries, were placed in position early on the night of July 1st, covering the approaches from the north, and which were patrolled by the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Half a mile below Wessell's position, the 8th Illinois Cavalry covered the road in line of battle, and a mile still farther on Naglee's brigade, with batteries under Major Robert M. West, was in position on commanding ground. Through these lines the army, with its trains, passed safely, Buchanan and Averell being the last, and by evening of July 3d was encamped at Harrison's Landing, slight tentative advances by Stuart's cavalry being readily disposed of. General Keyes states positively: "I do not think more vehicles or more public property was abandoned on the march from Turkey Bridge than would have been left, in the same state of the roads, if the army had been moving toward the enemy instead of away from him."


General R. E. Lee's strategy, seconded by General Jackson's able tactics in the Shenandoah valley, and aided by supposed political necessities in Washington, had secured the relief of Richmond for the time. General McClellan's careful provision and skill, aided by the nerve and endurance of his command, had rescued the Army of the Potomac from the false position into which it had been forced, and had placed it in safety at the point to which, thwarted on every other line, it returned two years later as the only base from which successful effort could be made. . . .


To guard against a renewal of such annoyances [an artillery attack from across the river early in the morning on August 1], field works were constructed on the south side of the James River, which were occupied by the Pennsylvania Reserves and cavalry detachments, under the command of General John F. Reynolds. In anticipation, at an early day, of a renewal of active operations on both sides of the river, reconnaissances were made from that point to ascertain the character of the country and the location of the enemy — all with the design of an attack upon Petersburg and the destruction of the bridges over the river, and to cut off railroad communication with the South. (The Fifth Army Corps, pp. 178-180, 182-183)


The Battles Near South Mountain and the Surrender of Harper’s Ferry


General Porter reported in person to General McClellan on the morning of the 14th, and, by the latter's order, resumed command of Sykes' division and that portion of the Reserve Artillery not distributed to corps, Morell's division continuing the march by the way of Frederick and Boonsboro'. The troops of the Fifth Corps present were held in readiness to take part in the battle of South Mountain, bivouacking in rear of Reno's left, partly up the mountain side, on the evening of the 14th. . . . 


On the morning of the 14th, Franklin advanced towards the Blue Ridge, and, finding Crampton's Pass (which he was ordered to occupy) held by the enemy (Cobb's, Semmes', and Mahone's brigades), made immediate preparations to attack, which he did, and after a gallant charge up the mountain and over the crest, the position was carried, the enemy being driven in confusion. At this moment, however, the white flag had been displayed by Colonel Miles at Harper's Ferry. Had he held on for twenty-four hours, he would have been relieved of Jackson's presence in front of him, Jackson being needed very badly by General Lee; this, in consequence of McClellan having pushed his command and attacked the enemy in the strong position Lee was occupying at South Mountain, holding Turner's Pass on the main pike to Sharpsburg. After a gallant flank attack by General Reno, in which he was killed, about 7 p.m. of the 14th, the Confederates were driven from the mountain, and retired towards Sharpsburg. Thus, at sundown on the 14th, McClellan had forced Lee to such an extent that Jackson would have been ordered that very night to abandon his demonstrations at Harper's Ferry and return to the main command. An order of General Lee's, giving the movements of the Confederate forces, having fallen into McClellan's hands, furnished the latter this information, and caused him to make his attacks immediately, believing by such attacks Jackson would the sooner be recalled, and Harper's Ferry thus relieved. . . .


On the night of the 14th, General McClellan gave orders to his corps commanders to press forward the pickets at early dawn. This advance revealed the fact that the enemy had abandoned his position, and an immediate pursuit was ordered — the cavalry, under General Pleasanton, and the three corps of Sumner, Hooker, and Mansfield (the latter of whom had arrived that morning and assumed command of the Twelfth Corps) by the National turnpike and Boonsboro; General Franklin to move into Pleasant Valley, occupy Rohrersville by a detachment, and endeavor to relieve Harper's Ferry (McClellan not having heard of the surrender at that time). General Burnside, whose troops were on the crest of the mountains, and General Porter with only his division of regulars, which was nearly at the base on the eastern slope, were ordered in pursuit by the old Sharpsburg road, and upon reaching the road from Boonsboro' to Rohrersville, were to reinforce Franklin or move on Sharpsburg, according to circumstances. Instead of General Burnside moving, as was expected, Sykes' division of Porter's corps passed up the mountain, through Burnside's command, and confronted the enemy at Antietam. General Burnside reached the neighborhood of Antietam about sundown. . . .


The following extract is taken from the History of the 118th Pennsylvania, by J. L. Smith, then a member of the regiment, which formed part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Fifth Corps:


"At noon the combat raged in all its fierceness. It was near this hour when General McClellan, with his large and imposing staff, rode upon the ground occupied by our division. The deep and abiding enthusiasm that habitually followed him, promptly greeted him. Shouts, yells, and cheers of appreciation rent the air. This unusual noise, so loud that it was borne above the din of battle, to the enemy's line, brought on a vigorous and persistent shelling. Regardless of the flying, bursting missiles, there he sat astride his splendid charger, glass in hand, calmly reviewing the mighty hosts, whose discomfiture with his trusted legions he was bent upon that day accomplishing. Intent, no doubt, on securing some permanent advantage at this particular point, he turned suddenly to Colonel Webb, of his staff, who subsequently won imperishable fame in command of the Philadelphia brigade at Gettysburg, and after a few moments of hurried instructions, dispatched him on his mission down into the valley — down into the very jaws of death. The smoke of the conflict soon enveloped him, and he was lost to view entirely. . . .”


The Battle of Antietam; Burnside’s Excessive Delay; Prevention of Attack by Skillful Placement of Artillery


During the time occupied by the Union troops as above described, Burnside had been dilly-dallying about carrying bridge No. 3, although he had received orders at 8 o'clock a.m. to attack in concert with the troops on the right. The result was that three hours had been consumed in accomplishing nothing, and General McClellan was forced into sending him an imperative order to push forward his troops without a moment's delay, and, if necessary, to carry the bridge at the point of the bayonet. . . .


General Burnside claims that he received the order to attack at 10 o'clock. General J. D. Cox, who had been placed in command of the Ninth Corps by Burnside, states in his report that he received the order to cross the stream at 9 o'clock. . . .


Notwithstanding the discrepancy as to time, three hours at least were spent in futile attempts to do what was subsequently accomplished in from ten to fifteen minutes.


"Ordered the night before to be ready to attack early, that the enemy might be kept from concentrating against our right, ordered at 8 o'clock to carry the bridge with a dash, and to storm the bluff beyond it, aide after aide sent to find why it was not done, and with the same orders, more urgent, at 9 o'clock Colonel Sackett sent with same orders positive, that it must be done, and a strong move made towards Sharpsburg, and Colonel Sackett to stay there and help do it, — three hours later Colonel Key, senior aide, sent with same orders imperative, not to stop at any sacrifice of life, for the day depended on it — and at last, at 1 o'clock, the bridge and bluff were carried, and then, another stop; and meanwhile a heavy concentration was made against our right, its splendidly successful attack checked with great carnage, and the very thing Burnside was intended and ordered to prevent was permitted by his astounding incapacity. Oh, for two hours of Reno, or Kearny, or Reynolds, or Hancock, or old Sumner, instead of a whole day of this man, who could neither see the great need nor his own glorious opportunity, nor even do as he was told, until finally Colonel Key was sent again with peremptory orders to drive on hard towards Sharpsburg, and this time Colonel Key carried an order in McClellan's handwriting relieving Burnside on the spot and placing General Morell in command, to be used if Burnside did not instantly advance and fight." — Wm. F. Biddle, in United Service Magazine, May, 1894.


During the afternoon, when Dryer had advanced his command so far to the front, General Pleasanton sent to General Porter for a division to press the success obtained by Dryer, accompanied by the statement that Burnside and Sumner were driving the enemy. Between the dispatching and receiving of that call the tide of battle had changed. The troops on the left under Burnside had been driven from the heights which they had so gallantly crowned, while those on the immediate right under Sumner were held in check. The army was at a stand. Moreover, Porter had not the force asked for, and he could not, under his orders, risk the safety of the artillery and centre of the line, and perhaps imperil the success of the day by further diminishing his small command, not then 4,000 strong. Had it been possible to have had Humphrey's division present at the time Dryer commenced his advance, and thrown it across the river, supported by Sykes' remaining force, there is but little doubt, as was the impression at the time, that Lee's centre could have been broken, Burnside's position advanced, and the Confederates driven to the river. But Humphreys did not (nor could he) arrive until the morning of the 18th.


About 5 p.m., as sudden as a stroke of lightning out of a clear sky, there swept over the Union troops a tornado of rebel wrath, and shot and shell struck and burst in all directions. Thirty guns, which had been massed in Hooker's corps, and which had been impatiently waiting this opportunity, together with the artillery of other corps, swept woods and cornfields with a deluge of missiles, while the roar of the guns of both armies, from every available position, made the very earth tremble. As this was the ordinary prelude to an infantry attack, the Union forces gathered themselves, and stood like tigers at bay, waiting for the coming onset. But the attack never came. It had been the intention of the Confederates to attack with infantry — it being General Jackson's favorite time for flinging himself upon the Union forces — but, as General Jackson says in his report, "I found his numerous artillery so judiciously established in their front and extending so near to the Potomac, which here makes a remarkable bend, . . . as to render it inexpedient to hazard the attempt."


With this cannonading the fighting ended for the day. Men obtained bundles of straw from the neighboring farmyards, and proceeded to lie down in line of battle; tired gunners made themselves comfortable beside their guns; pickets stood with eyes and ears open, close to the Confederate lines, ready to give instant warning should a night attack be attempted. No one even removed his sword or equipments; horses stood saddled and ready for immediate use. Within a space of four square miles lay about 150,000 men — some stiff and stark, staring with visionless eyes into the depths of eternity; some tossing on the beds of the field hospitals, or lying maimed and bleeding in the open fields; some hugging in their sleep the deadly weapon with which they expected on the morrow to renew the work of death.


General Burnside, although ordered to move forward early on the 15th, followed General Lee from South Mountain tardily, and the latter had the whole of the 15th and 16th to recuperate and establish himself — just the time he wanted to enable Jackson to join him. Lee could, had he so desired, have removed his entire force across the Potomac River on the night of the 15th as well as he did on that of the i8th, but he preferred to give battle as soon as he discovered that he would not be attacked on the 15th, being certain that Jackson would rejoin him on the i6th. He felt sure of being able to turn the Union right and force McClellan to cover Washington by way of Harper's Ferry, leaving the whole of the North open to him. This was what was intended when the furious cannonade commenced at 5 p.m. on the 17th, which movement had to be given up because Jackson found McClellan too well prepared for him to hazard the attempt. . . .


Critical Lack of Supplies after the Battle of Antietam; Lincoln’s Unrealistic Order to Advance into Virginia


As has been stated in. the previous chapter, General McClellan received his army during the night of September 2d and 3d, and placed it in a defensive position for an attack from General Lee, but the latter having withdrawn from any direct demonstration upon Washington, General McClellan gathered the defeated and despondent army together as the overland stage-driver gathers the lines of his six-in-hand for the perilous descent of the mountain, and started to feel for and meet his wily antagonist in positions of the latter's own selection. He marched some seventy miles, fought three battles and two actions with the enemy inside of two weeks, driving him across the Potomac back into Virginia; and then, when he found that following the enemy at that particular point was impracticable, he prepared to refit his troops, and while doing so let his men and animals take a much-needed rest, as they had been on the move since the 14th of August. He directed his corps commanders to make requisitions for supplies. Many of his men were without shoes or stockings and other clothing was sadly needed. When the enemy recrossed the Potomac, the means of transportation at McClellan's disposal were "inadequate to furnish a single day's supply of subsistence In advance."


Under these circumstances, he did not feel authorized to cross the river with the main army, over a very deep and difficult ford, in pursuit of the retreating enemy, known to be in strong force on the south bank, thereby placing that stream, which was liable at any time to rise above a fording stage, between his army and its base of supply.


Whatever may have been the consensus of opinion at Washington, as to the advisability of General McClellan following the enemy across the Potomac, we have always contended that his reasons for not doing so were eminently correct, and that no great military chieftain, with the hazard he had at stake, would ever have advised such action on McClellan's part. General Lee only hoped that McClellan would attempt to cross over; he would have turned on him with the ferocity of a tiger.


On the 22d of September, General McClellan telegraphed to the general-in-chief additional good and substantial reasons for not having followed the enemy, viz.:


"As soon as the exigencies of the service will admit of it, this army should be reorganized. It is absolutely necessary, to secure its efficiency, that the old skeleton regiments should be filled up at once, and officers appointed to supply the numerous existing vacancies. There are instances where captains are commanding regiments, and companies are without a single commissioned officer."


On the 30th of September General Halleck sent a dispatch to General McClellan thanking him and his army for hard-fought battles, saying that "for the well-earned and decided victories in Maryland, a grateful country, while mourning the lamented dead, will not be unmindful of the living."


This gratitude (?) was expressed decidedly on the 6th of November following.


On the 1st of October President Lincoln visited the army and remained several days, during which time he passed through the different encampments, reviewed the troops, and went over the battlefields of South Mountain and Antietam, expressing himself as highly pleased and gratified at what had been done; and to General McClellan's explanatory reasons for not moving, declared himself satisfied that the reasons were good, and promised that supplies should be sent immediately. He returned to Washington on the 4th.


On the 5th of October, instead of receiving reinforcements, General Cox's division, about 5000 men, was detached from General McClellan's command and sent to West Virginia.


To his surprise, on the 7th of October, General McClellan received the following communication:


"Washington, D. C, October 6, 1862.

"Major-General McClellan:


"I am instructed to telegraph you as follows: The President directs that you cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy or drive him south. Your army must move now while the roads are good. . . .


"H. W. Halleck,




At this moment the cavalry force was absent on general reconnoitering duty. General Averell, with the greater part of the efficient cavalry, was at Cumberland, and the same day it was reported that a large force of the enemy was advancing on Colonel Campbell at Sir John's Run. Averell was ordered to proceed with his force to the support of Campbell.


Three days later, General Stuart, with 2,000 Confederate cavalry, and a battery of horse artillery, crossed the Potomac at McCoy's Ferry, and started in a raid through Maryland and Pennsylvania, making it necessary to use all the cavalry force against him. Averell, Pleasanton, and Stoneman were started from different points to follow or intercept as the case might be. Pleasanton arrived at Mechanicstown to find the enemy only one hour ahead of him, and pushed on, overtaking Stuart at the mouth of the Monocacy, having marched seventy-eight miles in twenty-four hours. He at once attacked, but could not prevent Stuart recrossing the Potomac into Virginia.


At the time the order above referred to was received from General Halleck, not only was the army wholly deficient in cavalry, and many of the troops in need of shoes, blankets, and other indispensable articles of clothing, but Stuart's raid had caused many horses to be broken down, and a new supply of animals had to be furnished, or the mounted establishment of the army would be of little use in an aggressive movement.


Day after day passed without receiving supplies. General McClellan wrote, telegraphed, urged, and got into a snarl with the quartermaster's department, the officers of which insisted that the stores had been shipped. That appears to have been what was considered the end of their duty at that time. Technically, they had been shipped, but, upon investigation, train loads of supplies for the army were found on the tracks at Washington, where some of the cars had been for weeks.


This delay continued until the 26th of October, and although not yet supplied with articles for which requisition had been made, owing to the demands at Washington, General McClellan commenced, on the 27th, to cross his army into Virginia. (The Fifth Army Corps, pp. 264, 265-266, 279-281, 286-287, 291, 307-311)


The Final Removal of McClellan from Command


Upon arriving at Warrenton, officers and men were in glorious spirits, and General McClellan says in his final report: "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."


But, like a thunderbolt from an unclouded sky came the intelligence that Generals McClellan and Porter had both been relieved of their commands! Why? was the question on every lip. Some believed but many doubted the report. No reply could be vouchsafed the query. The following orders, however, had been issued:


"Executive Mansion,


"Washington, November 5, 1S62.


"By direction of the President, it is ordered that Major-General McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Major-General Burnside take the command of that army. Also, that Major-General Hunter take command of the corps in said army which is now commanded by General Burnside. That Major-General Fitz-John Porter be relieved from the command of the corps he now commands in said army, and that Major-General Hooker take command of said corps.


"The General-in-chief is authorized, in [his] discretion, to issue an order substantially as above, forthwith, or so soon as he may deem proper. A. Lincoln."


"Headquarters of the Army,


"Washington, November 5, 1862.

"Major-General McClellan, Comm'g, etc.


"General: On receipt of the order of the President, sent herewith, you will immediately turn over your command to Major-General 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, General-in-chief."



"General Orders,)

"No. 182. I


"War Department Adj't General's Office,


"Washington, November 5, 1862.

"By direction of the President of the United States, it is ordered that Major-General McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Major-General Burnside take the command of that army.


"By order of the Secretary of War:


"E. D. TOWNSEND, Ass't Adjutant-General."


It may be well to note here that General Hunter never appeared in the field to take command, although the order was never revoked.


It will be observed that in the instructions of the President he left the time of relief of General McClellan entirely discretionary with General Halleck. That officer hardly permitted the ink to dry on the President's paper before he issued the orders for removal. This order was received by General McClellan on the night of the 7th, and he immediately turned over the command to General Burnside, but in consequence of having planned several movements he remained to see that they were fully carried out.


Was the fact of General Porter being relieved at the same time as General McClellan significant of anything? Was McClellan relieved for incompetency? If so, for what was Porter relieved? Could they not trust the latter under any other general but McClellan? Let us see if we can learn anything from the pages of history that will throw light on the subject of McClellan's removal.


Secretary Chase in his diary, September 7, 1862, says:


"In the night a large part of the army moved northward following the force already sent forward to meet the rebels invading Maryland. Generals Burnside, Hooker, Sumner and Reno in command (Burnside chief) as reported.”


Why did he think that Burnside was in command of the Army of the Potomac at the time mentioned? Had the promise been made to Mr. Chase that Burnside should have the command? It certainly has that appearance, when we consider that the moment McClellan had relieved Washington of its danger, had forced the rebel army back to the Rappahannock, and then having his own in the best possible condition and position to fight, he was suddenly relieved and Burnside assigned to the command. What was the motive which induced Mr. Chase to wish Burnside in command of the army? Did Mr. Sprague of Rhode Island have any connection with the matter? Can it be possible that these diminutive wheels within wheels worked the machinery of the Army of the Potomac? These may be daring surmises; but until light is thrown upon the subject we are left to speculate for ourselves. Facts, however, are stubborn things.


Now the question arises, Why did the authorities not give the command of the Maryland campaign to Burnside, when he was on duty with the army, and McClellan was without command? The answer is, because, even though it may have been promised, they dared not take the risk at that critical period. There was only one man in whom they had the confidence to meet the emergency. That man was George B. McClellan, and they sought him — he did not ask for or seek a command, although he was without one.


And why was Fitz-John Porter relieved by the same order? The reasons given will appear hereafter; but the true reason is that Porter was known to be a soldier — he was the right-hand of McClellan as Jackson was the right hand of Lee, and, next to McClellan himself, he was the most prominent among the younger fighting generals of the army. Had he not managed the battles of Hanover, Court-House, Mechanicsville or Beaver Dam, Gaines' Mill, and Malvern Hill, and had he and his corps not comported themselves to the satisfaction of the army commander when that commander was present to give instructions according to circumstances? (The Fifth Army Corps, pp. 316-319)




Louis Philippe Albert (also known as Philippe d’Orleans and the Comte de Paris) was the grandson of the king of France and was the heir apparent to the French throne by 1842.  However, his family left France and came to America in 1848. In addition to being French royalty, Albert was a historian.  When the Civil War began, he joined the Union army under the name of Philippe d’Orleans.  He served as a captain on McClellan’s staff and performed with distinction.  After the war, he wrote a scholarly, widely acclaimed five-volume history of the Civil War titled History of the Civil War in America.


In his chapters on the Army of the Potomac’s operations in 1861 and 1862, Albert presented a fair, detailed analysis of McClellan’s performance.  Based on his firsthand knowledge of McClellan’s operations and on years of subsequent research, Albert concluded that McClellan had made a few honest mistakes but that these mistakes were understandable given what McClellan knew at the time, and that on the whole McClellan had performed capably and commendably.  Albert strove to give Lincoln the benefit of the doubt and repeatedly attributed his harmful decisions to the influence of Stanton and his allies. 


(Note: Perhaps because Albert wrote the volumes in French, some of his paragraphs are very long.  I have split up some of the paragraphs into two or more paragraphs for ease of reading.  I have also changed “Warwick Creek” to “Warwick River.”)


Lincoln Administration’s Misguided Views on Washington’s Defense; Lincoln’s Faulty Counting of Number of Soldiers Defending Washington; Needless Withholding of Troops from McClellan


The President, who, six months before, had suddenly taken away the command of the great department of the Missouri from General Fremont, had just created a new one in West Virginia expressly for him, called "the Mountain Department." This department had been so curiously marked out that Fremont was unable to find an enemy within its prescribed limits, and yet the President could not withstand the representations of those who were urging him to dismember the army of the Potomac for the purpose of adding unnecessary strength to this new army. Blenker's strong division, composed exclusively of German soldiers or men of German origin, was, for no other reason, taken away from General McClellan on the eve of his departure for Fort Monroe, and transferred to Fremont.


General Banks, with his twenty-five thousand men of the fifth corps, was kept in the valley of Virginia by the fears which Jackson and his eight thousand soldiers created in Washington, and the authorities only waited for the departure of McClellan to convert this corps into another independent army. And yet neither Fremont’s troops, with no enemy in front of them, nor Blenker's ten thousand men, sent in search of the former, nor Banks's twenty-five thousand, to whom Jackson could only oppose eight thousand soldiers shaken and demoralized by unsuccessful fighting, were considered by the President as forming part of the defenders of Washington. He regarded them as separate armies, destined to wage war on their own account, and desired to provide for the protection of the capital from forces outside their organization.


General McClellan had not foreseen these new military combinations. He thought that, at a time when the entire nation was giving so many proofs of patriotism, those who governed it would be able to resist the influence of idle fears and intriguing ambition. The troops he left behind him on the day of his embarkation, within reach of and ready to defend Washington, amounted to seventy-three thousand four hundred and fifty-six men and one hundred and nine pieces of field artillery, including Banks's corps and Blenker's division. It is true that out of this number were to be deducted the non-combatants, who always detract from the real strength of a large army. There were nearly three thousand five hundred recruits from New York and Pennsylvania who had not yet left their respective States; and about five thousand men were engaged in keeping guard over the railways. The twenty-two thousand men comprising the garrison of Washington had nearly all recently enlisted, and were quite inexperienced. In short, out of the twenty-nine thousand or thirty thousand men constituting the active forces of Banks and Blenker, from fifteen thousand to eighteen thousand had to be left in the valley of Virginia.


Nevertheless, after making all these deductions, it was easy to mass a corps of from twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand well-trained soldiers at Manassas, and to place in second line, in the fortifications of Washington, twenty-five thousand or thirty thousand soldiers, raw, no doubt, but quite able to make a good figure behind a parapet. These were more than were needed to protect the capital until the day when, like an electric cloud which attracts another of an opposite character, the army of the Potomac should have drawn the Confederate army to itself, when all danger to the Federal capital would have ceased. This moment once arrived, Blenker's division could have been removed without inconvenience from Washington, and sent as a reinforcement to Fremont's army.


General McClellan was obliged to submit to the new requirements of the government. On leaving Alexandria the 1st of April for Fortress Monroe, he left eighteen thousand five hundred men as a corps of observation between Manassas and Warrenton, and one thousand five hundred on the Lower Potomac; the garrison of Washington was soon to be raised to eighteen thousand men, with twenty-two pieces of field-artillery. He had not dared to strip the valley of the Shenandoah, where thirty-five thousand men, comprising the reserves, were massed; but these troops, already organized and partly trained, could, at the slightest intimation of danger, be summoned to Washington if the inexperienced soldiers forming its garrison were not deemed sufficient by the military authorities.


The government decided otherwise. The President again committed the wrong of allowing McClellan to depart with assurance which he immediately falsified. While the army of the Potomac was embarking, full of confidence and hope, and happy at being delivered from a long-protracted inaction, many people in Washington still felt, or pretended to feel, seriously alarmed on seeing the capital of the Union thus stripped. It was an easy matter to revive the old objections of the President against the plan which was at last being executed by his orders. There happened to be two generals in whom he reposed the utmost confidence, who declared that, in case of an attack, the garrison of Washington would not be sufficient; and although they had added that the capital was not menaced, Mr. Lincoln determined to ward off this imaginary danger by an act of authority.


On the 3d of April the great operation of transporting the army of the Potomac was considerably advanced, and promised entire success. With the exception of a few belated regiments, no troops remained in the neighborhood of Alexandria but McDowell's corps; but this corps was the finest in the army; it presented an effective force of thirty-eight thousand four hundred and fifty-four soldiers of all arms, well drilled, thoroughly equipped, admirably commanded, divided into three divisions of infantry, four regiments of cavalry, and twelve batteries of artillery. Embarked entire and at once upon transports which had at last been collected in sufficient number, while the remainder of the army was advancing through the peninsula, between the James and the York Rivers, it was to land on the north bank of that arm of the sea, so as to cause the fall of all the defenses erected for the purpose of closing its entrance. The fulfillment of the task assigned to this corps was, in the judgment of General McClellan, indispensable to secure the success of a rapid campaign. Yet just as he was about to embark, McDowell received an order from the President directing him to remain, with all his forces, in the neighborhood of Washington; while a laconic dispatch informed McClellan that these troops, for whose arrival he had been waiting so impatiently, were taken from his command. Since the operations had commenced he had thus been deprived of nearly one-third of that army he had formed with so much care, and for the perfect organization of which he had even sacrificed a portion of his popularity. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 1, Philadelphia: Joseph H. Coates & Co., 1875, pp. 626-629)


Movement of Army to Peninsula in “Remarkable Manner”; Confederate Withdrawal from Big Bethel Caused by McClellan’s Early Movement to Yorktown


Between Fort Monroe and Richmond there is but a single line of railway, which, starting from the latter city, crosses the upper Chickahominy, then the Pamunky at White House, and terminates at West Point, where the latter river and the Mattapony both enter into the salt waters of York River.


Such was the new ground upon which the army of the Potomac was about to fight. The transportation of this army was a difficult task, and was accomplished in a remarkable manner. The first vessels were (chartered on the 27th of February; on the 17th of March the first soldier was embarked; and on the 6th of April, all the troops which had not been withdrawn from General McClellan's command were landed upon the peninsula. During this short period of time, four hundred ships, steamers, and sailing vessels, had been collected and taken to Alexandria, and had transported a distance of eighty leagues, 109,419 men, 14,502 animals, 44 batteries, with all the immense materiel which generally follows such an army, leaving nothing behind them except nine stranded lighters and eight drowned mules.


McClellan had not waited for the end of this operation to take the field. Out of the one hundred thousand men, or thereabouts, he was to have under his command, he found on the day of his arrival fifty-eight thousand, accompanied with one hundred cannon, in a condition to march. The remainder had either not landed or were without the necessary transportation to take part in a forward movement. Many teams were yet wanting for the numerous wagons, without which troops could not venture among the marshy roads which they were to encounter.


The army was put in motion on the 4th of April, and arrived before Yorktown and the Warwick River the next day without having seen the enemy. The latter had hastily abandoned the few works erected at Big Bethel, in the firm belief that the Federals, who had control of the sea as far as Yorktown, could easily turn all those defenses. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, Philadelphia: Joseph H. Coates & Co., 1876, pp. 4-5)


The Yorktown Defenses; Soundness of McClellan’s Plan Proven; Siege of Yorktown


This first march was not accomplished without some difficulty. The roads were in a deplorable condition. The maps were bad, which was even worse than not having any. They had relied upon those which the officers stationed at Fortress Monroe had taken all winter to prepare, and the several columns, thus misled by false information, could hardly preserve their order of march. Deceived by these incorrect charts as to the direction of the Warwick River, General McClellan was led to believe that Yorktown could be easily invested. On the 5th, when his right wing appeared before that place, his left encountered the unforeseen obstacle which imparted so much strength to the position of the Confederates. The latter, under General Magruder, had long been preparing for the defense of the peninsula. The fortifications erected by Lord Cornwallis around Yorktown in 1781, within which he had defended himself with a tenacity worthy of the English army, were still in existence. These works were not revetted with masonry, but their profile was considerable. They had been put in order, enlarged, and completed. They were mounted with fifty- six guns, some of very heavy caliber. Batteries had been erected, some along the water's edge and others on the hillocks commanding the river, all of which crossed their fire with that of a large redoubt occupying the sandy promontory of Gloucester Point.


The bastioned fortifications of Yorktown completely enclosed that small town. The line of Warwick River which Magruder had selected at the last moment was not so well fortified by art as by nature. The source of this brook lies at twenty-four hundred meters from the bastions of Yorktown, the space between these two points (for the most part open country) being commanded by a lunette, a few breastworks, and an unfinished redoubt. The course of the Warwick River is bordered throughout by dense forests, through which wind tortuous roads difficult to find, laid out on a spongy and broken soil. The upper part of this stream is slow and muddy, about twenty meters in breadth, with marshy banks, and commanded on both sides by slight undulations in the ground. It was intersected by five dams, two of which were formerly used to collect the water for milling purposes, the three others having been constructed by Magruder. They produced, by retaining the waters, an artificial inundation, which is the best of all defenses. In the rear of each of these dams, the only accessible points to an assailant, rose a small redan. The lower part of the Warwick, subject to the influence of the tide, was surrounded by a triple enclosure of hardened mud, impenetrable canebrakes, and swampy forests, which forbade approach even to the boldest hunter. This line presented all those peculiarities which render offensive war so difficult in America; but Magruder was not in a condition to dispute its possession for any length of time with the powerful army which had at length encountered his pickets on the 5th of April. The division with which he had been charged to protect the peninsula since the preceding autumn numbered only eleven thousand men.


The military authorities of the Confederacy had not guessed or known in advance, as it was pretended at the time, the change of base of the army of the Potomac, or they were singularly careless and improvident, for after McClellan had embarked the greatest portion of his troops at Alexandria, Johnston with all his forces was still waiting for him on the Rapidan. Disturbed by the same fears which had beset Mr. Lincoln, the cabinet of Mr. Davis dared no more than he to uncover their capital; so that on the arrival of McClellan before Yorktown with his fifty-eight thousand men, not a single soldier had as yet been sent to reinforce Magruder.


These facts, which have been officially proved since the close of the war, afford the most conclusive evidence in favor of the plan which the commander-in-chief of the army of the Potomac had undertaken to carry out. If the line of defense selected by Magruder was naturally strong, it was too much extended, since the Confederate general had only eleven thousand soldiers to occupy about twenty kilometers. He had placed six thousand men at Gloucester Point and at Yorktown, and in a small work situated on the James, so that he had only five thousand left to defend the whole course of Warwick Creek. Consequently, the Richmond authorities, being fully convinced that he would not be able to maintain himself in that position, sent him a formal order to evacuate Yorktown and to abandon the entire peninsula.


But Magruder's obstinacy was proverbial among his old comrades. He refused to obey, and prepared to resist the enemy by placing his troops near the dams and among the few clearings adjacent to the stream, so as to deceive the Federals regarding his real strength. The latter, being received by a well-sustained fire on their appearance, imagined themselves confronted by the skirmishers of an army concealed by the forest; and General Keyes, commanding a column of more than twenty-five thousand men which had thus unexpectedly encountered Warwick River, did not consider himself strong enough to force a passage. General McClellan, equally deceived by appearances, thought he had again found behind those mysterious forests the Confederate army which had evacuated Manassas one month before. . . . 


This [a vigorous attack on one of the damns accompanied by several feints at other points of Magruder’s defenses] is what General McClellan would not have failed to do if he had known the situation of his adversaries as their published reports have revealed it since. But at that critical moment no information was received either from spies or from other sources to convey to him the faintest idea of their weakness. The line of defense they had adopted rendered it impossible for him to feel his way before assaulting them seriously. He could not compel them to show themselves except by crossing the narrow dams which intersected Warwick River. To attempt this operation he had deemed it proper to wait for the arrival of McDowell's three divisions, which were to turn the enemy's line by the left flank of York River. But on the very evening he reconnoitered the positions of his adversaries he was apprised of the deplorable decision by which the President withdrew from him this entire army corps. An independent command, comprising Fort Monroe and the very country in which the army of the Potomac was then operating, had been created a short time before in favor of General Wool. Finally, the naval force which had been relied upon to assist in the attack on the batteries of Yorktown declared that the necessity of keeping a watch over the Virginia did not permit the detachment of a sufficient number of vessels for that service. This was, indeed, a succession of disappointments, and at a time when it was too late to draw back. . . . (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 5-9)


Everything was to be ready for the 5th of May; but the day before, at dawn, the Confederate army had disappeared: it had evacuated Yorktown during the night. This movement had been determined upon since the 30th of April, at a council of war held in Yorktown by Jefferson Davis, Lee, Johnston, and Magruder. The evacuation of Norfolk, which followed as a result, was to be effected at the same time.


To ascertain the range of some one-hundred and two-hundred pounders which had just been placed in position, a few projectiles had been thrown into Yorktown. The sight of the damage they had caused was a wholesome warning to the Confederate chiefs, who, knowing themselves to be on the eve of a bombardment, had no desire to wait for its effects. When this decision had been adopted, Johnston emptied his magazines, moved away his materiel and wagons, and established at the halting-places designated in his line of retreat such provisions as his army would need every evening after a rapid march. In order to conceal his movements, he had sacrificed his heavy artillery, which had kept up a continuous fire upon the besiegers to the last moment. . . . (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 12-13)


McClellan’s Plan to Continue the Advance on Richmond; Lincoln’s Harmful Meddling and Second Failure to Send McDowell’s Corps


Thus the James River, which had been closed until then by the presence of the Virginia [the CSS Virginia], as York River had been by the cannon of Yorktown, was opened by the destruction of that ship, just as York River had been by the evacuation of the Confederate fortress. But it was only open as far as Drury's Bluff; in order to overcome this last obstacle interposed between Richmond and the Federal gunboats, the support of the land-forces was necessary.


On the 19th of May, Commodore Goldsborough had a conference with General McClellan regarding the means to be employed for removing that obstacle. The headquarters were at Tunstall's Station, on the railway from West Point and Richmond. The whole army was placed en echelon within reach of this road, between the Pamunky and the Chickahominy. The latter river had been struck at Bottom's Bridge, over which the old mail route from Williamsburg to Richmond passes. The enemy had not disputed its passage. Only a few cavalry pickets had been seen. He was evidently reserving his entire force for the defense of the immediate approaches to his capital.


General McClellan, as we have stated above, might have continued to follow the railway line, and preserved his depots at White House on the Pamunky, which would have led him to force the passage of the Chickahominy above Bottom's Bridge and attempt an attack upon Richmond on the north side; but he could also now go to re-establish his base of operations on James River, which the Virginia had hitherto prevented him from doing. By crossing the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge, and at some of the fords situated lower down, between that bridge and the extreme point reached by the tide, he was sure of encountering no resistance. The army, by carrying in their wagons a sufficient quantity of provisions, could have reached the borders of the James in two or three days, where its transports would have preceded it. This flank march, effected at a sufficient distance from the enemy and covered by a few demonstrations along the Upper Chickahominy, offered him great advantages without involving any risk. It enabled him to advance afterward as far as Richmond, by following the course of a navigable river, open at all times, instead of obtaining his sup- plies by railway, exposed to the attacks of the enemy; it avoided the formidable obstacles which the Chickahominy interposed on the north side, and by assaulting the city on the south side it threatened to separate it from the rest of the Confederacy.


But to adopt this plan McClellan should have been able to count upon an enlightened concurrence on the part of the government at Washington. Indeed, he could only have executed it by withdrawing the imaginary protection which his army was supposed to afford to the capital of the United States from a distance. Instead of recognizing the fact that the best way of defending the capital was to keep all the enemy's forces occupied elsewhere, the Federal authorities fancied that the safety of Washington depended on the position of the army of the Potomac before Richmond. Impressed with this idea, they offered McClellan important reinforcements, provided he would place himself to the north of the enemy's capital.


The day before Goldsborough proposed to him to invest Richmond on the south, he had received a dispatch from Mr. Lincoln informing him that McDowell's corps, reinforced and numbering nearly forty thousand men, was at last about to leave the banks of the Rappahannock to cooperate with him against Richmond. This corps, with a view to avoid enormous expenses, as well as for the purpose of covering Washington, instead of embarking, was to march directly southward, so as to form the right of the army of the Potomac. It was placed under the orders of McClellan, although an absurd restriction revealed the old mistrusts and fears, as we know, and did not permit the general-in-chief to separate it from the direct road from Richmond to Washington. In thus imposing upon McClellan the necessity of operating by way of the north, the President did not appreciate the advantages of a march along the line of the James, which Grant's last campaign so clearly demonstrated four years later. If McClellan could have foreseen how deceptive were the promises of reinforcement made to him at the time, he would undoubtedly have declined the uncertain support of McDowell, to carry out the plan of campaign which offered the best chances of success with the troops which were absolutely at his disposal.


But the formal assurances he was receiving did not permit him to pursue such a course, and he subordinated his movements to those which the President directed in person. The project of marching upon the James was abandoned, and the army, penetrating into a country bristling with obstacles, commenced a series of operations which only brought forth doubtful and dearly bought successes. Resting its left on Bottom's Bridge, which it already occupied, and deploying its right, it took a position higher up along the north side of the Chickahominy, to join hands with McDowell, whose arrival was long waited for in vain, but who never made his appearance.


This army had passed through the first ordeals of the war. It had worked in the presence of the enemy; it had fought; it had marched; it had shown itself laborious, patient, intelligent. In battle the soldiers had displayed great personal bravery and tenacity. It was owing to these qualities that the mismanagement of those in command at Williamsburg had not been productive of the fatal results that might have been apprehended. The regiments which had suffered most in battle, if temporarily disorganized, had promptly recovered their equanimity. On the march they had been less successful. It is true that the roads were few, narrow and in a bad condition; but this difficulty did not quite justify the extreme slowness of their movements and the confusion into which their columns were more than once thrown. The American soldier had yet much to learn in this respect; the history of the war will show that he became in the course of time, if not the equal of the best foot-soldiers in Europe, at least a sufficiently good marcher to undergo, when necessary, one of those long marches upon which the success of a battle frequently depends. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 32-34)


McClellan’s Decision Not to Attack Richmond After the Battle of Gaines Mill (When Lee’s Army Was on the Opposite Side of the Chickahominy River from Richmond)


General McClellan had assembled several of his generals around this fire, and was consulting with them regarding the dispositions to be made for the following day, upon which the very existence of the army of the Potomac seemed to depend. The idea was for a moment entertained of playing double or quits on the right bank of the Chickahominy the game which had just been lost on the other side. It was McClellan himself who, forget- ting his habitual circumspection, and emboldened by the imminence of the danger, thought of taking advantage of the enemy's movement against his right wing to throw himself upon unprotected Richmond with all the forces that were left him. The Confederates, being separated from their capital by the Chickahominy, would not be able to arrive in time to succor it, so that the defeat of the previous day might turn out to be only the prelude to a brilliant success. His lieutenants, however, Heintzelman especially, opposed this project, and found no difficulty in diverting his attention from it. It must be acknowledged that it would have been a desperate undertaking; for the condition of the army was such that, so far from justifying any rash movement, it imposed upon its chief the duty of sacrificing the most tempting combinations to the dictates of prudence.


The day before, while Porter was keeping the largest portion of Lee's army engaged at Gaines' Mill, it might have been possible to concentrate the rest of the Federal army, and thus penetrate into Richmond.. But the propitious hour had passed. That portion of the army which had just fought at Gaines' Mill had suffered too severely to be able to resume hostilities on the following day. All that Lee would have had to do in order to oppose this bold movement would have been to recross the Chickahominy near the field of battle, and fall upon the flank of the Federals, if they had come out of their entrenchments. Moreover, as usual, the Confederate forces were exaggerated in the councils of McClellan. But let us ask, Did this plan, the failure of which would have involved the destruction of the whole army, offer any tangible and lasting advantages in the event of success? Once master of Richmond, McClellan would soon have been besieged in turn by the conquerors of Gaines' Mill; he would thereby have sacrificed his communications by way of the White House, without having been able to secure a new base of operations on the James, the navigation of which above City Point could easily have been closed by the enemy's batteries placed on the right bank.


In these circumstances, even the capture of the enemy's capital would only have aggravated, by retarding for a few days, the dangers which threatened the army of the Potomac. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 105-106)


McClellan’s Improved Tactical Position After Moving His Base to Harrison’s Landing; McClellan’s Desire to Renew Advance on Richmond; Lincoln Administration’s Decision to Order McClellan to Abandon Harrison’s Landing and to Send His Corps to the North to Join Pope


In the estimation of those who did not allow themselves to be troubled by foolish alarms and were not blinded by party prejudices, McClellan's situation was far. from bad. The material losses he had sustained could be easily repaired. The great danger the army had incurred had excited an extraordinary sensation in the North, which resulted in numerous enlistments; the government felt at last that it could no longer hassle about reinforcements; the soldiers had been trained by their trials, and their chief had displayed qualities which justified the confidence reposed in him. Planted on the James, McClellan could, either by ascending this river or by seizing upon Petersburg, strike much deadlier blows at Richmond than when his army lay across the Chickahominy, far from any water communication. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, p. 148)


Mr. Lincoln 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. Burnside had brought seven thousand men to Fort Monroe from Newberne; four thousand more, taken away from Hunter, had joined him at Hampton Roads from Beaufort; 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 General Halleck had made it a duty to cause him to feel the inferiority of his new position, by addressing to him the most severe reproaches whenever the letter of his orders, frequently impossible to execute, was not carried out. An instance of this kind will show how far this hostile feeling was prejudicial to the welfare of the service. This occurred at the time when the army of the Potomac was about to begin its retreat. It was of the utmost importance that it should reach Aquia Creek in time to support Pope against Lee's demonstrations. Halleck was urging haste, but there was a want of ships for its transportation. The telegraph did not extend as far as Harrison's Landing, and the public service consequently suffered on account of this interruption. McClellan, wishing to regulate and expedite the embarkation of his troops, came down the river James one day, and went into the telegraph office at the extremity of the line for the purpose of putting himself in direct communication with Halleck. On receiving this summons, the latter merely stepped into the Washington office to write a dispatch of four lines, and went out immediately, without waiting for an answer, leaving the clerk to communicate his abrupt departure to McClellan, who returned to his headquarters without having been able to procure the telegraphic audience to obtain which he had travelled one hundred and fifty miles.


The soldiers were beginning to feel even more impatient than their commander. The army of the Potomac, recovered from its fatigues, numbered about ninety thousand men in marching condition.  Its presence alone on the borders of the James doomed Lee's troops to inactivity, for with such a neighbor the latter could not think of uncovering his capital to go and crush Pope on the Rapidan. This army, however, could not be allowed to remain any longer stationary on the unhealthy banks of the great Virginia river. It was indispensable cither to withdraw it or to give it the means to move forward. On the 25th of July, Halleck went at last to discuss this question with McClellan. The latter, with a sagacity which was to receive a striking vindication at a later period, pointed out to Halleck on the map the position of Petersburg, and proposed to him to seize it by crossing over to the south bank of the James. Once master of this point, he could cut the communications of Richmond with the south, and secure the fall of the capital without having to attack it in front. He was thus foreshadowing the plan followed precisely by Grant in the last campaign of the war; and when Halleck, according to his own statement, rejected it as dangerous and impracticable, he little foresaw the events which, two years later, so completely belied his predictions.


The commander-in-chief, however, informed McClellan that the President authorized him to make a direct attack on Richmond if a reinforcement of twenty thousand men would suffice him for that operation; otherwise, the army was to leave the peninsula and join Pope. After some hesitation McClellan declared himself ready to undertake the attack on those conditions; and while Burnside was returning to his troops for the purpose of bringing them over to him, he made active preparations for resuming the offensive. Nevertheless, while prosecuting this work, he could not help regretting the stingy manner in which the forces placed at his disposal for this great enterprise had been measured, and he was too frank to conceal his regrets from his superiors. Writing to Halleck on the 26th to give him an account of the means of defense possessed by the enemy, he closed his communication in these terms: "Might not fifteen or twenty thousand men be withdrawn from the West to reinforce me temporarily? They should be returned on the day of the capture of Richmond. Please to take this suggestion into consideration; I am sure it is worthy of it." There is not a word in this dispatch calculated to create the impression that McClellan had reconsidered his determination to attack Richmond with the only forces that had been promised him; but General Halleck made it a pretext to alter once more all the plans of campaign, and to obtain an order from the President that the army of the Potomac should be recalled to Aquia Creek.


This decision was concealed from McClellan. On the 30th of July, he was ordered to leave all his sick and wounded at Fortress Monroe in order that he might be more free in his movements; but at the same time these instructions seemed to imply that the plan of attack against Richmond was still approved, for lie was ordered to push his reconnaissances in that direction, and to ascertain the strength of the enemy; the authorities at Washington even seemed to think that the latter had evacuated his capital. At the same time Burnside was notified not to stir from Hampton Roads, and a few days later he was ordered to Aquia Creek.


In order to conform himself to Halleck's instructions, McClellan, believing that he was on the threshold of a new campaign, directed Hooker to resume possession of Malvern Hill; some engineer troops were simultaneously to seize a promontory, called Coggin's Point, on the south side of the James, whence, the day before, D. H. Hill, with about forty pieces of cannon, had kept up a most vigorous although not very damaging fire upon the transports and even the camps of the Federals. Coggin's Point was occupied and strongly entrenched; a position was thus secured which freed the navigation of the James from all impediments, affording, moreover, an excellent tete de pont [defensive position for a bridge] for any enterprises or diversions that might be attempted south of the river. Hooker, on his side, had set out with his division and Pleasanton's brigade of cavalry during the night of the 2d-3d of August; but having got lost in the woods, he was obliged to return to camp. The next day, the 4th, reinforced by Sedgwick's division, he again took up his line of march, and at daybreak drove a battery and two regiments of the enemy from Malvern Hill, making about one hundred prisoners. The Federal cavalry pushed on as far as White Oak Swamp Bridge, where some thirty Confederate mounted men were captured. But at the very time that McClellan was thus knocking at the gates of Richmond, where every- thing seemed to indicate a fortunate beginning to his new campaign, he received the fatal order which had been resolved upon several days before in cabinet council at Washington. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 245-248)


Halleck’s Failure to Learn Lesson


The vigorous demonstration which the latter [Jackson] had just made had nevertheless caused Halleck to feel seriously alarmed concerning the army of Virginia.


It was evident, in fact, that from the day when Lee should be unembarrassed by the vicinity of McClellan, he would be able to throw himself with all his forces upon Pope, who, in his advanced position on the Rapidan, ran the risk of being crushed before he could receive the slightest reinforcements. These considerations, which should have impressed him with a sense of the danger attending the evacuation of Harrison's Landing, determined him, on the contrary, to urge the speedy embarkation of the army of the Potomac. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, p. 261)


One Consequence of Halleck’s Insistence that McClellan Expedite the Sending of Franklin’s Corps Toward Pope; Franklin’s Corps “Destitute of Everything that an Army Needs for Its March”


While the Confederate soldier was lighting this immense bon- fire in the rear of his foe, the greatest confusion prevailed in Washington. Like Pope, the Federal authorities had only been apprised of this raid by the interruption of the telegraph and railway. There were no tidings of the army of Virginia. Stu- art's cavalry screened all Jackson's movements as with an impenetrable veil, and had even appeared in the neighborhood of Fairfax Court-house. Had the railway track been destroyed by a mere detachment of this cavalry, or was the whole of Lee's army between Pope and the Federal capital?


This state of uncertainty paralyzed everything. It was no longer safe to send provisions and ammunition by rail. The authorities were at a loss whether to send a regiment to the front, or an entire army. The garrison of Washington consisted only of recruits and a very small number of trained troops, for the forty thousand men refused to McClellan had been given to Pope. Fortunately, Franklin's corps had landed on the afternoon of the 26th. It was positively destitute of everything that an army needs for its march, having neither horses, wagons, cannon, rations nor ammunition. Nevertheless, on the morning of the 27th, one of his brigades, composed of New Jersey troops under General Taylor, proceeded by rail as far as Bull Run Bridge, got off the cars, crossed the stream, and boldly advanced to see what they could discover in the direction of Manassas. The Confederates, seeing this handful of men — for they only numbered one thousand or twelve hundred — concealed themselves in the woods and the works; and when the Federals were within a very short distance, they opened a terrific fire upon them, which laid one-third of the party low; the remainder hastily fled to the other side of Bull Run and to Centreville, carrying with them their wounded general. At Centreville a few troops rallied around the debris of this unfortunate brigade. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, p. 278)


Restoration of McClellan to Command After Pope’s Disaster at Second Bull Run (Second Manassas)


Pope, in the mean while, did not think he could maintain himself in the defensive position he had taken. The discouragement of his soldiers had at last invaded his own mind. The two armies of the Potomac and Virginia were finally consolidated under his command. But their numbers could no longer avail; for the bravest men in them had come to consider a new battle fought under his direction in the light of a useless butchery — a painful position for a commander-in-chief who had certainly committed many errors, but whose gallantry and activity could not be called into question by any one. Both soldiers and officers instantly clamored for their old general — the man who had organized them into an army, and who, notwithstanding his reverses, had never brought such a disaster upon them.


McClellan, in the mean time, was shelved (interne) at Alexandria, kept far away from the scene of action by order of Halleck; and although still nominally commander-in-chief of the army of the Potomac, he had scarcely two or three aides-de-camp about him. He had sent off his last orderly even to escort the ammunition intended for Pope. But when the disaster of the Federal army appeared at last. in its true light, stripped of the covering which Pope's dispatches had at first thrown around it, a new appeal was made to his patriotism and military talents. Pope, in fact, after having announced to Halleck that he had "completely used up the enemy without losing a gun or a wagon," wrote to him a few hours later that his army ran the risk of being entirely destroyed, and asked him to call it back to Washington to reorganize it, and on the morning of September 2d, without giving time to Jackson to renew the attack, he fell back at the head of several columns toward the Federal capital.


On the same day Mr. Lincoln decided at last to entrust McClellan with the command of the defenses of Washington, the difficult task of repairing the disasters caused by the faults of another. The old commander of the army of the Potomac, going immediately to meet his companions in arms, found them marching sadly and, slowly in the midst of long columns of wounded, lame, and stragglers of every kind. It was difficult for him to recognize in his routed army the fine divisions he had brought back from the borders of the James fifteen days before. He received the command on the 2d of September from the hands of Pope, who, through Halleck's favor and a just appreciation of his personal courage, was appointed to military functions in the Northwest less exacting than those he had just resigned.


Nevertheless, while yielding to the necessity which had constrained it to have recourse to the only man capable of saving it, the government of the White House had not done so with a good grace. It limited itself to placing under his command the forts of Washington and the troops assembled within the range of their guns. We may suppose that, this appointment having been exacted from the authorities of the War Department by Mr. Lincoln's good sense and spirit of equity, the former sought to restrict it as much as possible. It is impossible to explain otherwise the strange fact that General McClellan, upon the verbal request of the President, resumed the command of his old army without having been regularly invested with it.


In fact, the order of September 2d, limiting his authority to the defenses of the capital, was neither modified nor replaced by new official instructions when he led the army to encounter Lee. The duties imposed upon him at this critical hour did not allow him time to remonstrate against an omission, which was too serious, however, to be attributed to the confusion which prevailed in Washington. But if, instead of achieving a victory, he had experienced a reverse in this dangerous enterprise, would not his enemies in the War Department have taken advantage of the irregularity of his appointment to bring charges against him? The idle allegations which, at a later period, were made the pretext for deposing him give the impartial historian the right to entertain such a supposition.


However this may be, McClellan's only thought, on once more meeting his soldiers, was to secure them as quickly as possible the means of regaining their strength and their courage. He brought back each corps into the old position it had occupied during the long winter of 1861-1862. Porter and Siegel took up their quarters at Hall's Hill, McDowell at Upton's Hill, Franklin and Heintzelman near Alexandria, Couch in the vicinity of the Chain Bridge and Sumner at Fort Albany. If so many brave men had not failed to appear at roll call, one might have believed that the painful campaign which had taken the army under the very walls of Richmond was but a dream. In fact, everything had to be commenced anew; and, what was still more deplorable, this bitter experience would teach the Washington authorities nothing.


The excitement in Washington was intense. One may imagine what must, then, have been the consternation of those who, three months before, had already trembled for the safety of the capital at the mere announcement of Banks' defeat. They must certainly have thought that this time the Confederates would not fall into the same error they were supposed to have committed the previous year, and that they would pursue the vanquished army into the very gardens of the White House. These alarms were in reality without cause. The fortifications which had been erected by the army of the Potomac protected Washington from a sudden at- tack. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 303-306)


McClellan’s Decision Not to Renew Attack on September 15 at Antietam; Condition of McClellan’s Army at the Time


Having been unable to defend South Mountain, Lee was obliged to halt in the rear of this water-course to hold McClellan in check and wait for Jackson. The rapid march of the Federal army compelled him to fight before resuming his project of invading Pennsylvania. By continuing his march upon Hagerstown, as he had originally intended, he gave McClellan an opportunity to place himself between him and the conquerors of Harper's Ferry. It was essential, above all, to draw near them, which obliged him to hug the shore of the Potomac, while his heads of column, turning to the left at Boonesboro, proceeded in the direction of Sharpsburg. He thus found himself within the acute angle formed by the Potomac and the Antietam, and was only nineteen kilometers from Harper's Ferry. His front was covered by a difficult stream, and he could recross the river behind him, if he should be vanquished in the defensive battle he was preparing to fight, or if Jackson should need his assistance. If victorious, he could at his option either enter Pennsylvania or drive McClellan back upon South Mountain and Washington. On the morning of the 15th he established himself in this excellent position.


Meanwhile, McClellan, who displayed great activity, was following him very close. A brilliant skirmish marked the entrance of his cavalry into Boonesboro. He was in hopes of being able to attack the Confederates the same day, the 15th, for he was aware that Lee had only D. H. Hill and Longstreet with him, and that the remainder of his army could not yet have joined him. But he also knew almost certainly that Harper's Ferry had capitulated, and that consequently the indefatigable Jackson must already be on the march to join his chief. In fact, he had learnt from Franklin that at eight o'clock that very day the cannonade around Harper's Ferry had suddenly ceased, and that very shortly after he had met a considerable number of the enemy's forces in Pleasant Valley. In the presence of these forces he had halted, justly deeming it too late to attempt to rescue Miles' troops, and imprudent to proceed farther in that direction. Upon this intelligence McClellan immediately ordered his lieu- tenant to come back, directing him to follow the Boonesboro road; and the distance the latter had to overcome led him to hope that he would be able to unite the greater portion of the army before Jackson, on his side, should join the enemy.


At all events, Lee's movement upon Sharpsburg rendered the chances in the race between Jackson and Franklin about equal, and the junction of these two corps with their respective armies was the aim of all the maneuvers which were to result in a great contest on the borders of the Antietam. Lee knew it as well as his adversary; he was therefore waiting with great impatience to hear from Jackson. At last the news came to Sharpsburg of the capitulation of Harper's Ferry and its twelve thousand defenders. The Confederate army looked upon this success as an evidence of its good fortune, and derived from it fresh confidence in its superiority over adversaries who had made so poor a defense. As to its chief, it afforded him above all a guarantee of the near approach of Jackson, without whose presence he would undoubtedly have been obliged to recross the Potomac immediately. He sent him orders to come back with all possible haste; and Jackson, leaving A. P. Hill to attend to the execution of the capitulation, started on that very day with his two other divisions under Lawton and Starke. The remainder of the troops — Anderson's, Mc- Laws' and Walker's divisions — which had been united under his command, were to follow, and rejoin him as soon as possible at Sharpsburg. Thoroughly convinced of the necessity of promptly reinforcing the main body of the army, he left nearly fifteen thousand men behind him, in order to proceed himself to the front with about eight or nine thousand; and imposing upon his tired soldiers a fatiguing night-march, he reached Sharpsburg on the 16th, early in the morning.


He arrived in time, for McClellan had not been able to attack Lee's positions the day previous. Two weeks only had elapsed since he had taken command of this army, or rather this disorganized mob. He had not been able to transform it sufficiently to secure that regularity and perseverance in the march which even more than steadiness under fire constitutes the superiority of old troops. When, therefore, he reached the borders of the Antietam on the afternoon of the 15th, he had only two divisions with him, those of Sykes and Richardson, belonging to Sumner's corps. The obstructions of the road, the fatigue of the soldiers, want of exactitude on the part of some of the commanders and the indifference of others, had kept back the rest of the army, which stretched out in interminable columns between Boonesboro and Antietam. It was impossible for him to attack twenty thousand men strongly posted behind a river with only two divisions. He was therefore obliged to postpone the battle till the following day, and to limit himself to reconnoitering the enemy's positions and selecting those he intended his troops to occupy as they should come up. On the morning of the 16th the Federal line was not yet completely formed. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 330-333)


McClellan Unable to Attack on September 16 Due to Heavy Fog and Late Arrival of Ammunition


On the morning of the 16th the whole Federal army was assembled on the borders of the Antietam, with the exception of the two divisions of the Sixth corps and those of Couch and Morrell. From the morning of the 15th, Franklin, with the first three divisions, had, in fact, allowed himself to be deceived by McLaws. When the cannonade, ceasing at Harper's Ferry, had revealed to him the surrender of the place, he had very leisurely proceeded up Pleasant Valley, halting at Brownsville. McLaws, despite his numerical inferiority, had followed him step by step, while Franklin, still imagining that he was confronted by forces superior to his own, passed the whole day of the 16th watching the enemy, in a condition of fatal inaction. As to Morrell's division, it had left Boonesboro on the morning of the 16th to march toward the Antietam, under the immediate direction of Porter. In the course of this same morning Jackson arrived at Sharpsburg through Sheppardstown, with the two divisions of Starke and Lawton, or rather the remnants of these two divisions, for they did not together number more than four thousand men.


The advantage of concentration was, therefore, still in favor of McClellan; for the divisions of McLaws, Anderson and A. P. Hill — that is to say, more than one-third of Lee's army — were still on the right side of the Potomac; the opportunity for making a sudden and decisive attack, which had been lost the day before, presented itself again to the Federal commander, and the very elements seemed to conspire in his favor. The scorching day of the 15th had been followed by one of those clear, fresh nights which, in that climate of opposite extremes, announce the approach of autumn, and from early dawn on the 16th a thick fog, rising from the humid plains which border the Potomac and the Antietam, enveloped both armies in an impenetrable veil. This mist would have concealed the movements of McClellan if he had been ready, and enabled him to mass all his forces upon such a point of the enemy's line as he might have thought proper to attack. It was, however, only the cause of fresh delays for the Federal army. The latter, in fact, had only taken its positions for battle after the very tardy arrival of the ammunition trains; and when ready to march, it had to wait until the sun had dissipated the mist, and had lighted up the passes of the Antietam, which it had not been possible to reconnoiter the day before. Precious time was thus lost, and half the day had already passed before McClellan was able to fix upon his plan of battle. Meanwhile, his several corps had deployed along the heights which border the valley of the Antietam to the east, and kept up a brisk artillery combat with the Confederates. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 338-339)


Burnside’s Critical Delay at Important Bridge


It was nine o'clock; the opportunity was favorable for attacking in front the positions of the Confederates on the Antietam, which Lee had stripped for the purpose of sending a portion of their defenders to the left. Porter with Morrell's force rejoined Sykes' division, and thus formed the centre of the Federal line, while Burnside with the Ninth corps, thirteen thousand strong, occupied the left.


McClellan, who from a commanding point overlooked the whole front of his army on both sides of the Antietam, had as early as eight o'clock, just as Hood had resumed the offensive, dispatched an order to Burnside directing him to commence the assault, carry the bridge and attack Longstreet on the other side. Unfortunately, Burnside, instead of conforming to this order by making a general attack, contented himself with sending Crook's small brigade against the defenders of the bridge. This movement was only supported by two regiments of the division of Sturgis. Crook, received by a vigorous discharge of musketry, was promptly repulsed. Rodman's brigade, "which was to have crossed at a ford below the bridge, met with no better success. Sturgis then sent his two regiments to renew the charge; but notwithstanding his perseverance, he could not even reach the bridge. Two hours were thus wasted in successive efforts on the part of detachments too feeble for the work — efforts that were at once sanguinary and fruitless.


Thus, while the contest was increasing on the right, the left still continued motionless. In vain did McClellan send messenger after messenger to Burnside with the order, more and more urgent, to try a general attack. It was noon, and this general with his four divisions had as yet only brought three brigades into action, and bad sent but two or three regiments at a time to attack the bridge, around which all the enemy's means of defense were concentrated. Much valuable time was thus lost in weak and impotent attempts. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 345-346)


The Federals, however, had received a timely reinforcement; it was Franklin, with the two divisions of the Sixth corps. Since ten o'clock in the morning his heads of column had appeared on the banks of the Antietam. McClellan had promptly sent him to the support of the right, and about half-past twelve he came into line. . . .


Thinking, then, that a great blow could and must be struck in that direction to ensure victory, Franklin massed the whole of Slocum's division in the rear of Dunker Church, and prepared to make a vigorous attack upon the Confederate left wing. It was one o'clock. The divisions of French and Richardson, without quitting their positions, occupied the enemy with a spirited fire of musketry, during which the latter of these two generals fell mortally wounded — a cruel loss, especially at this moment, for, in spite of his somewhat rough manners, Richardson knew how to make his soldiers love him, while his intrepid courage urged them forward at the trying moment. The support of artillery was wanting on this side, where only a few pieces had succeeded in coming into battery. More to the left, Pleasanton's cannon had enabled Porter to take possession of the bridge of the Keedysville Road, and to cross it with six battalions of regular infantry, who came to support the mounted batteries of the cavalry division. Burnside, urged again by McClellan, who had sent a superior officer to him with instructions to see that his orders were strictly carried out, was at last roused from his inaction. We dwell upon this delay not only because it made McClellan lose all the fruits of his victory, but especially as illustrating the difficulties which in those improvised armies a general-in-chief encountered in endeavoring to secure the success of his combinations — an example which is the more remarkable because Burnside was a personal friend of McClellan, an extremely brave officer and a loyal man, who at Roanoke had displayed true military capacity. It was about one o'clock when he finally decided to make a great effort to carry the passes of the Antietam.


The bridge, on the Confederate side of the river, was commanded by an acclivity, on the summit of which some parallel wall fences formed excellent parapets for its defenders. The fire of Longstreet's entire artillery was concentrated upon this point; hence it is that the partial attacks which had been made to force a passage had invariably failed. But when Burnside pushed forward the four splendid regiments of General Ferrero at once, supported by a considerable force, the small Confederate brigade of Toombs was unable to withstand them. The assailants left two hundred men upon the ground; at this price the bridge was carried and the passage free.


At the same moment Rodman's division crossed the Antietam at a ford which had just been discovered lower down, and the Ninth corps, led by Cox and Burnside, both of whom bravely exposed themselves, occupied the heights situated between Sharpsburg and the river, along the sides of which wound the Rohrersville road. There was nothing to be done but to advance in order to turn this success to advantage. If Franklin on the right. Porter in the centre and Burnside on the left attacked the enemy simultaneously, he would be driven into Sharpsburg, and the disaster would be complete. But at this critical moment the Federal chiefs were wanting in decision. Burnside halted to re-form his line, and to enable the rest of his corps to cross the river; two precious hours were thus wasted. On the right Sumner arrived at Dunker Church, and, struck with the disorganization of Sedgwick's troops, took upon himself to forbid the grand attack which Franklin was about to commence. The latter urged in vain the imperative necessity; the old soldier, who was as obstinate as he was brave, kept him where he was with all his troops, to repel a supposed attack on the part of the enemy, who, however, was far from contemplating it. In the centre McClellan, deceived by the exaggerated reports of spies and deserters, kept the greater part of Porter's corps in reserve, in order to parry any aggressive return on the part of the Confederates. Two army corps — that is to say, nearly twenty-five thousand men — were thus kept from being seriously engaged, at a moment when Lee had his very last man under fire.


Nevertheless, if Burnside had obeyed the orders of his chief more strictly, if he had made a general attack in the morning, and if, after crossing the Antietam, he had not waited two hours before resuming the offensive, he would certainly have placed Lee in a very dangerous position. But these two hours had given A. P. Hill, who had arrived from Harper's Ferry with his fine and numerous division, time to cross the Potomac and participate in the battle. It was three o'clock. Burnside was already driving Toombs' weak brigades before him, and was rapidly gaining ground. He had ascended the hills on the right which separate the Antietam from the Sharpsburg plateau; the enemy's artillery was about to fall into his hands; he had almost reached the town, south of which Longstreet was endeavoring to re-form his lines, when A. P. Hill fell suddenly upon his left flank. The aspect of the combat was at once changed; the contest along those hills became more and more violent, and the Federals, surprised at this new resistance, came to a halt, to fall back immediately after. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 350-354)


Victory for McClellan and Defeat for Lee at Antietam; Factors that Influenced Outcome of the Battle


The battle of the 17th was a defeat for the Confederates in the triple joint of view, of tactics, strategy and politics. On the field of battle they had ended by losing considerable ground throughout the whole extent of their line, from Dunker Church to the last bridge of the Antietam; they had left behind them cannon, flags, and several thousand prisoners. On the evening of the 17th the army was so totally broken down that it could not think of resuming the offensive; a return to Virginia had become a necessity. The political results of the battle of Antietam were equally damaging; the Confederates were obliged to abandon the last inch of ground they occupied in Maryland; they ceased to menace Pennsylvania; and instead of having obtained the recognition of neutrals by a bold stroke, they had shown that in assuming the offensive they had lost their chief strength.


The error which Lee expiated by this great defeat is evident, and its consequences may be traced throughout the events we have just related. This error was in dividing his army for the purpose of capturing Harper's Ferry in the presence of McClellan, and of counting too much upon the tardiness of his adversary. If he had not made such a division of his forces, he would have had the choice cither to fight a decisive battle under much more favorable circumstances, upon the steep acclivities of South Mountain, or of continuing the campaign on the upper Potomac with all his troops. The mistakes of his enemies repaired to some extent those committed by himself. Through the disgraceful capitulation of Miles, the slow movements of Franklin on the 14th and 15tli, and the delays which prevented McClellan from attacking him on the 16th, he was enabled on the 17th to mass all his troops on the field of battle. The issue of the contest, however, would probably have, been different if A. P. Hill, instead of arriving at three o'clock in the afternoon, had been able to take part in the struggle early in the morning, and add his efforts to those which kept the Federal right so long in check.


There were, moreover, many other causes which prevented McClellan from achieving a more complete victory, and taking ad- vantage of this opportunity to strike an irreparable blow at Lee. The first is to be found in the moral condition of his troops. The army which had been entrusted to him was partly composed of the vanquished soldiers of Manassas, and the remainder consisted of soldiers who had only been one or two weeks in the service, who had never marched, never been under fire, and knew neither their commanders nor their comrades. They fought with great bravery, but could not be expected to perform what Lee easily obtained from his men. Their ranks had not that cohesion which enables a commander to follow up a first success without interruption. The Union generals may be censured for having divided their efforts on the right in successive attacks, and thereby impaired their effectiveness. The corps of Hooker, Mansfield and Sumner, in all from forty to forty-four thousand men, instead of being brought into action one after the other, for the space of four hours, might have been united, so as together to strike the Confederate left, which they would no doubt have crushed. . . . Finally, Burnside by his long inaction upset all McClellan's plans, enabled Lee to mass all his forces on his left, and thus deprived the Federals of the principal advantages which a more energetic action on his part would certainly have secured. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 356-357)


McClellan’s Decision Not to Renew Attack on September 18 at Antietam


The sun of September 18th rose to light up one of those scenes of suffering and anguish which humble the pride of man by the exhibition of his weakness and cruelty. Twenty thousand men, killed or wounded the day before, were lying on that narrow battle-field. Their comrades were exhausted by the struggle, by fatigue and by the want of both sleep and food. McClellan had, indeed, thought of resuming the offensive that very day, of making new and greater sacrifices, perhaps, in order to complete the victory so dearly bought the preceding day. Many generals, Franklin among the rest, urged this. Others, like Sumner, tried to dissuade him from so rash a purpose. Such an attack afforded great chances of success; but with raw troops panics and unforeseen accidents were always to be apprehended, and might jeopardize all the results already obtained. Pennsylvania protected, Washington freed from danger, and the invasion definitely repulsed, the Union general was not willing to run this risk. His duty as a commander and a citizen required him thenceforth to strike only when certain of success; for as he himself said, "one battle lost, and almost all would have been lost."


The army of the Potomac was greatly reduced, not only by the absence of soldiers killed, wounded or captured, but especially by the disorganization of the corps which had suffered most in battle. Thus, Hooker's, which, out of fourteen thousand eight hundred and fifty-six men, had two thousand six hundred and nineteen disabled, only numbered on the morning of the 18th six thousand seven hundred and twenty-nine ready for action. Important reinforcements were, moreover, expected, which had to be waited for. The two divisions of Couch and Humphreys joined the army in the course of the morning. As soon as they made their appearance, McClellan, feeling henceforth certain of success, gave orders for attacking the Confederates on the morning of the 19th, in the positions they had occupied since the battle. His prudent adversary, however, did not wait for him. He also had received a reinforcement during the day of the 18th, consisting of the last division, which had been left at Harper's Ferry; these fresh troops, however, did not compensate him sufficiently for his losses. The campaign on the left bank of the Potomac was ended, and could not be renewed. From that moment it was useless to persist in maintaining himself in the angle between this river and the Antietam, where so much blood had already been shed to no purpose for the Confederate cause. This would have been to expose himself without object to an attack which might degenerate into a disaster. During the night of the 18th-19th the whole of Lee's army, taking advantage of the low water in the Potomac, crossed silently into Virginia. It left behind in Maryland, besides a large number of its best soldiers killed or wounded, many disappointed hopes and dispelled illusions. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 357-358)


Condition of McClellan’s Army After Antietam; McClellan’s Decision to Resupply and Reorganize the Army Before Moving Toward Lee in Virginia


The army of the Potomac also greatly needed reorganizing and rest. We have seen that when McClellan resumed the command of it, after Pope's disastrous campaign, it seemed to be on the point of dissolution, and the despondency which had invaded it looked like the certain prelude to new defeats. McClellan had in- fused fresh vigor into it, but had not been able, during the marches which preceded the battle of Antietam, to eradicate the evils which had been introduced into its organization, nor to repair the enormous losses it had previously sustained in stores and equipments. The regiments, deficient in their complement, and greatly reduced by fighting and desertion, only represented the strength of two or three companies each. Unable to consolidate them — that is to say, to merge several into one — McClellan requested that the regiments recently raised might be brigaded with them, so as to combine the two elements, thereby forming brigades, to which the new recruits would impart a numerical, and the old soldiers a moral, strength. The short time during which the army had been encamped in the neighborhood of Washington, before marching to meet Lee in Maryland, had been employed in effecting its reorganization and in arming the recruits and stragglers. But it had commenced the march without the necessary materiel for a long campaign. There was a great scarcity of saddle-horses and draught-horses, wagons and articles of clothing, especially shoes, nor had it any depots or storehouses for collecting such materials.


Under these circumstances, McClellan did not deem it expedient to undertake an offensive campaign in Virginia when Porter's unfortunate reconnaissance had shown him that the enemy was disposed to offer resistance. He did not dare to take position with a large river behind him, whose sudden overflows were always to be feared, nor to renew the attack upon the army that had so gallantly fought at Sharpsburg, before he was fully prepared to undertake an offensive campaign. According to his own calculation, he did not then possess the means of subsisting his large army at more than one day's march from a railroad or canal. His soldiers could not make long marches, some of them having marched during five weeks, almost without interruption, from the borders of the Rapidan to those of the Antietam, the others being newly-enlisted troops, a large number of whom had been wholly disabled by the last ten days' campaign.


The rapidity with which the Confederate army had dwindled away during the three weeks intervening between the battle of Manassas and that of Antietam, although entirely composed of tried soldiers long inured to every kind of hardship, fully accounts for all the difficulties which kept McClellan on the left bank of the Potomac. A general-in-chief, especially one whose army has just made a victorious effort, is alone able to judge what he may expect from his troops. Consequently, although his inaction after Lee's retreat in Virginia was entirely to the advantage of the latter, we should unquestionably defer to his judgment, if this judgment had not been influenced by an overestimate of the enemy's forces. In fact, as we have already said, the staff department of the army of the Potomac had from the very first contracted the habit of making no abatement from the figures given by deserters and fugitive negroes, and thereby furnished General McClellan with statements regarding the condition of the Confederate army which had no foundation in fact. Thus, for instance, whilst Lee was only able to oppose forty thousand men at Sharpsburg, McClellan imagined that he had to deal with ninety-seven thousand combatants. As will presently be seen, Grant committed a contrary error in his campaign against Vicksburg, when, thinking that his adversary was not so strong as he really was, he attacked him with a degree of boldness which proved successful, but which such a general as Lee would probably have made him pay dear for.


On the 22d of September the Federals entered Harper's Ferry without opposition, of which place they were already virtually in possession through the occupation of Maryland Heights. As a tete de pont this point possessed but little importance at this time of the year, for the Potomac was then fordable in many places j and if the waters of the river had risen so as to render the fords impassable, there was cause to fear that the same freshet might carry off the frail bridge of boats that McClellan had just thrown over the river at Harper's Ferry. In order that this little town might serve as the base of an offensive campaign in the valley of Virginia, it would have been necessary to rebuild the railroad bridge, which would have enabled the supply-trains to proceed directly from Washington to Winchester. Such work, however, would have consumed much time. The army of the Potomac, therefore, took up its quarters on the left bank of the river from Williamsport to the mouth of the Monocacy, watching the passes through which an offensive return of the enemy might be apprehended, and McClellan devoted himself exclusively to its re- organization. But his inaction during the most favorable season for campaign purposes soon stirred up the impatient public, and reminded them of his temporizing policy at Washington in 1861, and in the beginning of the following year before Yorktown and on the Chickahominy. This impatience was fully shared by the Federal government.


The difficult relations which had always existed between General McClellan and the Secretary of War had been aggravated by Halleck's appointment to the post of commander-in-chief of the armies. These two functionaries had set themselves earnestly to work to provide the army of the Potomac with all that it needed for beginning the campaign. But every request for reinforcements or supplies, addressed to Halleck by McClellan, was the occasion of complaints and mutual reproaches, which could not but prove detrimental to the welfare of the service.


When this controversy is impartially examined, containing, as it does, the most contradictory assertions concerning matters of fact, one is naturally astonished that for more than a month General Halleck did not think of taking the cars, which would have brought him to Harper's Ferry in five hours, to ascertain for himself the extent of the wants of the army of the Potomac and the validity of the complaints of its commander. Honest Mr. Lincoln could not escape from the influence of the military authorities around him, and even his good intentions only served to render his orders painfully contradictory. Thus, for instance, after having visited the army on the 1st of October, and having seemed satisfied with the explanations that McClellan gave him regarding his delay in the field, he sent him an order on the 6th of the same month, directing him to cross the Potomac and assume the offensive at once. He advised him at the same time to effect his passage east of the Blue Ridge, so as to keep his army between the enemy and Washington, promising him in that case a reinforcement of thirty thousand men. If McClellan, who had expressed a preference for a campaign in the valley of Virginia, persisted in attacking Lee in front, between Martinsburg and Winchester, he was at liberty to do so, but then the reinforcements drawn from the garrison of Washington would be reduced to fifteen thousand men.


What was called the garrison of Washington, so far, at least, as relates to numbers, was a real array, partly composed of old troops who had been in the peninsula campaign, and partly of recruits scarcely drilled. It numbered, as we have before said, seventy- three thousand able-bodied men present for field duty. General Banks was in command. It nominally formed part of the army of the Potomac, but in reality it was under the direct orders of the President and General Halleck.


The President's plan offered General McClellan great advantages; it not only ensured him considerable reinforcements, but the sincere co-operation of the Washington authorities and the approval of public opinion, of which those authorities were then only the interpreters; and, by menacing Lee's communications, he would certainly have compelled him to evacuate the valley of Virginia. But still dreading an offensive return into Maryland on the part of his opponent, so long as that State was not protected by a rise in the waters of the Potomac, McClellan did not adopt this program. It may be presumed that if he had known the real condition of the Confederate army he would not have entertained such fears. But whatever his plan may have been, he was not in a condition to take the field when the orders of the President reached him. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 538-541)


Stuart’s Cavalry Raid; McClellan’s Response to Stuart’s Raid; Controversy Over McClellan’s Supply of Horses; Other Supply Issues


Stuart, who had already displayed his aptitude for leading an independent corps of cavalry before Richmond, was entrusted with this task.


A demonstration was made along the Upper Potomac for the purpose of diverting the attention of the Federals; they still occupied West Virginia, whither General Cox, who had been in command of the Ninth corps since the death of Reno, was then proceeding with considerable reinforcements. A long chain of posts, connecting this region with the positions occupied by McClellan, was especially intended to cover the Upper Potomac, and protect Maryland and Pennsylvania in that direction against the inroads of Confederate partisans; west of Hancock, which is the northernmost point of the course of the Potomac, their troops lined the right bank of the river in order to keep possession of the rail- road which runs along that bank. Since the battle of Antietam these posts had been guarded by General Averill, who employed the largest portion of the Federal cavalry for that purpose. This cavalry had just been relieved by other detachments, and was occupying the Cumberland and Hancock road, when, on the 6th of October, it was ascertained that the enemy had shown himself in force in the valley of St. John's River, a small tributary of the right bank of the Potomac. Averill was immediately ordered to proceed toward this point in order to protect the railroad and the river crossings. This was precisely what the Confederates desired; and while their adversaries were thus detained above Hancock, Stuart was preparing to cross the river lower down.


At early dawn on the 10th of October his cavalry division, comprising the three brigades of Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee and Jones, eighteen hundred strong, accompanied by four pieces of artillery, crossed the Potomac at McCoy's Ferry, near the mouth of Back River. By a fortunate chance he kept clear of some Federal troops on the Hancock and Williamsburg turnpike; the day previous part of Cox's division had crossed at this point on their way to West Virginia, and the next day Averill was following the same road in a contrary direction eastward, for he had soon discovered the mistake which had detained him higher up.  Stuart had the good fortune to slip, almost unperceived, between these two troops; not daring to attack Hagerstown, which he knew to be well defended, he pushed on to Mercersburg, continuing in a north-easterly direction as fast as he could travel, and arrived in front of the little town of Chambersburg on the same evening.


He was already in the heart of Pennsylvania, where no one was expecting such visitors. It was on a dark, rainy night that some fugitives came running at full speed to announce the approach of the enemy. There were no means of defense in the town, the garrison of which consisted only of a few militia officers who had never been under fire; and Stuart's cavalry, although worn out by their long march, entered Chambersburg without resistance. They took special care to show the utmost consideration for this town, the first in the free States in which the Confederate flag had yet appeared. No pillaging was allowed; men and horses bivouacked in the wide streets under the trees which shaded them, and conducted themselves so well that the inhabitants soon began to treat them more as friends than foes. Nothing was destroyed but the depots of the Federal government, and Stuart only took what was necessary for his troops; among the farmers of this town he found valuable booty — a large number of excellent horses. His troopers mounted these fresh animals, and, leading the old ones by the bridle, left Chambersburg on the 11th before daylight; they had thus gained a new advantage over their adversaries, who did not dare resort to such an expeditious mode of recruiting in a friendly country. After entering the Gettysburg road, so as to elude pursuit, Stuart soon turned to the right, and re-entered Maryland through Emmetsburg. The movements of Cox, whom he came near meeting, decided him not to return by way of the Upper Potomac, but to push along into the valley of the Monocacy. In that way he placed the chain of South Mountain between McClellan and himself, and was free to cross the Potomac near Leesburg, which at that period did not present any serious obstacle.


The news of this raid reached McClellan's headquarters on the evening of the 10th; the fact of Stuart's crossing the Potomac became known when that general was already quietly bivouacking in a town of Pennsylvania. Averill was at once ordered to start in pursuit. Pleasanton, who protected the encampments of the army of the Potomac, with the remainder of the cavalry, was also ordered to Hagerstown, and proceeded as far as seven kilometers beyond the Hancock road. Stuart was on his way back when the Federals were still vainly endeavoring to discover his tracks; it was only on the 11th that McClellan was finally apprised of his march toward the east. He immediately made all necessary dispositions for intercepting him, if possible, before he could reach the Potomac. At one o'clock Pleasanton was ordered to proceed eastward, to occupy Mechanicsville, beyond the Blue Ridge, and to send his scouts in every direction, in order to discover the enemy; Cox's division was ordered to halt on its march westward, and to guard the crossings of the Upper Potomac; Burnside; whose corps was encamped in Pleasant Valley, one of the lower valleys of the Blue Ridge, was directed to occupy the railroad bridge on the Monocacy, and to watch that river. Lower down, Stoneman, who was stationed near Poolesville, was instructed to distribute his troops so as to protect all the fords of the Potomac, and to dispute their passage with Stuart wherever he might present himself. McClellan hoped thereby to retard the march of the latter, and to concentrate a crushing force against him; but Stuart, thanks to his own daring, the quickness of his movements, the connivance of the inhabitants and his own good fortune, managed to escape from this well-laid trap. . . . (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 542-544)


The pressing demands of McClellan for a fresh supply of horses for his cavalry subsequently to this affair increased the number of subjects of recrimination between this general and the departments at Washington. There were controversies on statistical questions; and efforts were even made to pick a quarrel with the commander-in-chief of the army of the Potomac on account of a mistake in figures which occurred in the transmission of one of his telegrams; it was sought to prove that he had more horses than he required. A large number had, in fact, been forwarded to him; he had received about seven thousand in two months, but during that time a terrible epidemic, combined with the prostrating effects of hard work, had rendered forty-five hundred of them unfit for use, and the addition of twenty-five hundred was far from meeting the exigencies of an army about to take the field.


The responsibility for this scarcity, fatal at such a juncture, partly rested upon the soldiers, who did not bestow sufficient care upon their horses, and partly upon the system of military administration. The demands for remounts and the forwarding of the animals were delayed by incessant wranglings, and the quarter-master of the army was only once authorized to make a direct purchase of twelve hundred horses, without procuring them from the depots at Washington.


It thus happened that the army, a victim to the despotism of administrative formalities, was in want of saddle-horses and draft animals in a country which possessed both in great abundance, and in which the enemy, by a raid of only two days, had picked up as many as he wanted. In order to show how large was the number of animals required by this army as soon as it commenced marching, it will be enough to say that in order to feed for the period of ten days the one hundred and twenty-two thousand mouths for whom rations had to be provided, it required wagons drawn by ten thousand nine hundred and eighty draft animals; the artillery horses numbered six thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, and those belonging to the cavalry five thousand and forty-six, making in all a total of twenty-two thousand eight hundred and sixty-two animals.


But in order to feed these twenty-two thousand eight hundred and sixty-two animals during the same period of ten days, it was necessary to provide a certain quantity of forage, which required seventeen thousand eight hundred and thirty-two extra draft animals to wagon it; and as the latter ate a portion of the forage they transported, the available rations were reduced by nearly one-half, so that the forty thousand six hundred and ninety-five horses or mules belonging to the army had only, in reality, provisions for six days.


The same difficulties retarded the supplies of every kind asked by McClellan. For some days dispatches were constantly passing between his headquarters and those of Halleck, asserting, on the one side, that so many thousand overcoats and pairs of shoes had been forwarded, and on the other that such articles had not been received. Finally, about the 25th of October, large supplies of clothing were received, and on the 31st the army was completely provisioned. McClellan had not waited until this last date to put his army in motion.


We have entered into some details for the purpose of showing all the difficulties which, especially at that period, embarrassed the movements of the Federal armies. As we observed in the beginning of this work, some of these difficulties were peculiar to the very nature of the country, but they were increased by the defects of organization and the want of experience in the supply departments. We have already remarked that sufficient advantage had not been taken of the vast number of horses with which the farms of Pennsylvania were stocked. In the same way, instead of collecting around the cantonments of the army of the Potomac the provisions required for its consumption by a system of regular requisitions, they were forwarded from Washington by rail, which encumbered the track, delaying the arrival of the materiel and equipments asked for by McClellan. In short, it is impossible to conceive how cavalry campaigning in a country which is certainly not a wilderness, but is covered with farms and interspersed by vast pasture-lands, should be obliged to carry its own forage along, and that five thousand horses should occupy a number of draft animals nearly equal to their own for the performance of this service. Nor was Lee's army free from these difficulties; and a Prussian officer, M. de Borcke, who was then serving with distinction on Stuart's staff, also complains, in an interesting work he has published on those campaigns, that the largest portion of the provisions was brought with much trouble from Richmond, while the counties adjacent to the encampments of the Confederate army abounded in resources which they did not know how to employ.


The task that McClellan had undertaken was far from being completed on the 25th of October, when he put his army in motion. Many articles were delivered to the soldiers during the first few days of the march, but a large number had to be left behind in the depots for want of time to distribute them. Cavalry horses were still wanting. Most of the new regiments which were to be brigaded with the old organizations had not arrived. But a regard for higher orders did not admit of any further delay in taking the field. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 546-549)


Unusual, Unwise Timing of Decision to Remove McClellan from Command; Reaction of Soldiers to McClellan’s Dismissal; Immediate Consequences of McClellan’s Removal


On the 6th of November the army's change of base was therefore accomplished. All the corps had reached the Manassas Gap Railroad, or were sufficiently near this railway to seek their sup- plies at some of its stations. This line established direct communications with Washington, the capital was covered, and the reinforcements promised to McClellan were beginning to arrive. Bayard's cavalry had joined him a few days before, and on the 6th of November the Eleventh corps, which Siegel brought him, was at New Baltimore and Thoroughfare Gap; after this corps followed Sickles' division, which encamped that day at Manassas Junction and Warrenton Junction. The whole army thus extended from the passes of the Blue Ridge to the isolated chain of hills adjoining the Bull Run Mountains. The First corps already occupied Warrenton, the Ninth had reached Waterloo on the Rappahannock, the Second was at Rectortown on the Manassas Gap Railroad, the Fifth and Sixth closed the march, and were proceeding in the direction of this railway, one from Snicker's Gap and the other from Upperville. Warrenton was the place selected by McClellan as a point of concentration; it was the terminus of a railroad which offered great facilities for the transportation and distribution of rations. His columns were to march upon this town, leaving the Rappahannock on the right, whilst Pleasanton, remaining on the left bank of this river, was to watch Thornton's Gap, the only pass in the Blue Ridge through which Jackson communicated with Longstreet. These two Confederate generals were posted, one at Millwood, the other at Culpepper, more than seventy kilometers apart in a direct line, and more than one hundred by the pass of Thornton's Gap, which was occupied by D. H. Hill's division, whose duty it was to keep up a connection between the two points. The Federal army was placed almost between the two; it needed but one day's march to separate them, and two or three for the whole of it to assemble at Warrenton; it would thus have found itself fronting Longstreet, who had only about fifty thousand men under him, and could have attacked him with every chance of success.


Jackson and Lee, who had a thorough knowledge of the situation, had certainly projected some bold movement upon McClellan's rear, similar to that which had proved so successful against Pope two months and a half before, but they were playing a very dangerous game, for never had the army of the Potomac maneuvered better, nor been better prepared for a great struggle, and never had the mutual confidence between general and soldiers been greater than at that moment. It is useless to inquire whether victory would have been the reward of Jackson's audacity, or the result of McClellan's combinations; a political intrigue concocted at Washington suddenly interrupted the campaign, and delivered the Confederates from an adversary whom they had learned to respect.


On the evening of November 7th, during a snowstorm somewhat early in the year for that climate, McClellan was in his tent with General Burnside, when the bearer of a dispatch from the President was announced. This was General Buckingham, an officer unknown to the army of the Potomac, who brought him an order contained in three lines, and signed by Halleck. This order relieved him from the command of the army and appointed Burn- side as his successor. News so utterly unexpected fell like a thunderbolt upon these two officers, who had long been on terms of strictest friendship; but the only one who exhibited any emotion was the one upon whom fell the weight of a responsibility to which he had never aspired. After reading the dispatch, without betraying any feeling McClellan handed it to him, simply remarking, "You command the army." Burnside declined to accept for some time. All his friends and his late commander insisted, and finally succeeded in overcoming his scruples, which the future was unfortunately to justify in a striking manner.


On the morning of the 8th the army of the Potomac learned, with astonishment and grief, that it had lost the chief who had called it into existence and led it for the first time into battle — the chief who had shown them the spires of Richmond, and who on the morrow of a great disaster had restored their self-reliance, and who, in short, had just led them to victory. We are not called upon to pass judgment upon General McClellan's military career in this place. In spite of our sincerity, such an estimate on our part might look like the reflection of our sentiments of profound gratitude and abiding friendship for our old chief; but every reader may judge for himself in accordance with the facts we have impartially related. We will simply state that the Washington authorities took all sorts of precautions to prevent the soldiers of the army of the Potomac from manifesting any sympathy for McClellan, which would have been too severe a reflection upon their conduct, and that the news of his departure caused universal rejoicing among the adversaries whom he had met on so many battlefields.


The displacement of a general-in-chief in the midst of a campaign, just as he was about to attack or to be attacked by the enemy, is not only a severe condemnation of the individual whom it affects, but it is a serious, and we may add a dangerous, measure, and the chief magistrate of a great nation should never resort to it, unless public interest requires it. The motives which decided Mr. Lincoln, the real causes of complaint he may have had against McClellan, have always remained enveloped in mystery.


The general order issued by the latter regarding the proclamation of September 22d was dated one month back; his correspondence on the subject of army supplies had closed a fortnight since. His delay in taking the field, notwithstanding the order of the President, could no longer be alleged against him now that the army was in motion, and that he had been congratulated thereupon. He had, moreover, adopted the plan of campaign which had been sent to him from Washington.


It was impossible, therefore, to find any plausible pretext for his dismissal, and the attempt was not made. The real causes were, on the one hand, the hostility of General Halleck and the Secretary of War, and, on the other, that of the Republican party, which some political friends of McClellan had irritated and alarmed by their imprudent language. What finally determined this step, it is said, was the result of certain partial elections which turned out in favor of the Democratic party. Mr. Lincoln was made to believe that this result was the beginning of a political movement of which General McClellan would be the leader; it is even possible that, in order to control his action, they may have placed before him the danger of a military revolution, which the enemies of republican institutions in America were always predicting, and the measures taken for carrying out the order of the President in an army so foreign to all ideas of pronunciamientos [military rebellion] justify this supposition. Mr. Lincoln, well acquainted with political intrigues, could no longer resist the evil influences by which he was beset. As it frequently happens, unfortunately, with honest people who have been guilty of some weakness, he made up his mind, after much hesitation, at a time when such an act was most unaccountable, and when it might have been productive of most disastrous consequences.


Without uttering one word of complaint, McClellan announced to the array that he had ceased to command. He remained for three days longer in the midst of it, sparing no pains to make the new general familiar with its organization, and gave the latter a last proof of his friendship by accompanying him as far as Warrenton, where he took leave of his companions in arms for the remainder of the war. The affable manners, high character and disinterestedness of the new general-in-chief, together with the remembrance of his success at Roanoke, secured him the regard of all his comrades; but it soon became evident that when he. thought of declining the dangerous honor of commanding an array of one hundred and twenty thousand men, his instinct and presentiments had not deceived him. The orders that McClellan had issued for the two following days were strictly carried out; and on the 9th of November this army found itself concentrated in the vicinity of Warrenton, within one day's march of the positions occupied by Longstreet on the other side of the Rappahannock; it was ready to attack this general and wrest Culpepper Courthouse from him before Jackson could come to his assistance.


But if the impetus had been given, the impelling power no longer existed; for Burnside had already submitted a new plan of campaign to the authorities at Washington, differing entirely from that of his late chief. Meanwhile, he paused, for he had not taken a sufficiently stronghold of the reins, so suddenly placed in his hands, to conduct his soldiers immediately to battle. A fine opportunity was thus lost, less through his fault than that of the authorities, who had selected such an unpropitious moment for making a change in the supreme control of the army. (History of the Civil War in America, Volume 2, pp. 554-559)




James Havelock Campbell was the dean of the law school at the University of Santa Clara, California, from 1911 to 1918.  In 1916 he wrote a detailed defense of McClellan’s military record titled McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan. Campbell wrote his book partly to respond to Peter Smith Michie’s vehement attack on McClellan titled General McClellan (1901).  The editors of the weekly journal The Nation said the following in their review of Campbell’s book:


It is probable that the European war will modify military criticism of General McClellan.  In its severest form that criticism was marshaled and applied in Michie’s General McClellan, one of the Great Commanders series of biographies.  In his McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan (Neale Publishing Co.), James Havelock Campbell, Dean of the Santa Clara Law School, subjects Michie’s book to as severest an arraignment as General Michie applied to McClellan. . . .


McClellan’s problem was to organize and equip an army after war had begun in a democracy which had permitted, less than fifty years before, about 2,000 English troops to capture the city of Washington and burn the national Capitol.  Facing the truth that neither was the South armed or equipped, and remembering the claim that Northern delay only gave the South time to prepare, it is nevertheless obvious that with the superiority of resources and numbers the North would have gained more than the South by preparation.  It was for the South to hurry, the North to take time.  There is a great deal to be said in McClellan’s behalf, and Mr. Campbell says it, without sparing President Lincoln or Secretary of War Stanton. . . . Very often the criticism loses sight of stupendous difficulties overcome, and in dwelling on obvious faults in individuals misses far more important elements of strength.  A good deal of the criticism of McClellan in the past has been of this kind. (The Nation, April 26, 1917, volume 104, number 2704, p. 495)


Preface to Campbell’s Book


The purpose of this book is to set forth clearly the services of General McClellan in the Civil War. Only a brief sketch of his earlier and later life is here given. More has been written about this subject than about any other within the realm of war except the campaigns of Napoleon; and a comparison of what has been written with the facts will show that never before was any subject so little understood by those who undertook to discuss it. From what has been said by the majority of these authors one would conclude that McClellan was wholly devoid of military capacity. Yet General Lee, the most renowned leader of the South, emphatically proclaimed McClellan the ablest Northern General of the war; and von Moltke, the foremost chieftain of the nineteenth century, asserted that the war would have ended two years earlier than it did, if McClellan had been properly supported by the Government. It is a most interesting and potent fact that in a life of fifty-nine years only ten months covers the whole period to which criticism has ever been directed; yet this same ten months has justly received from many unbiased writers greater praise than any other period of his life. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan: A Lawyer's Brief, New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1916, preface)


McClellan’s Alleged “Inactivity” in Late 1861 and Early 1862


As all writers testify, the undertaking of creating an army commensurate with the work to be done proceeded with unexampled rapidity, and yet, — as its completion depended on the coming in of the necessary men and materials, a branch of activity which was not in his hands, — its impeded progress was vexatious to its commander. In October he writes to his wife, "This getting ready is slow work with such an administration."  "Preparations are slow." On the 31st of October he alludes to "The gross neglect that has occurred in obtaining arms, clothing, etc." In November he wrote: "I cannot move without more means, and I do not possess the power to control those means. I am doing all I can to move before winter sets in, but it now begins to look as if we were condemned to a winter of inactivity. If it is so, the fault will not be mine; there will be that consolation for my conscience, even if the world at large never knows it." It is evident from these confidential messages to his wife that he was fretting under delay, which he thought could have been easily avoided if he had had control.


He was eager, and at first hopeful, that his plans could be sufficiently matured to enable him to take the field early in November. There was a strong desire that the enemy should be driven from his position at Manassas, where he had remained strongly entrenched and had been reported to be 100,000 strong.


McClellan was in a position similar to that of a contractor who is engaged to construct a building for the government sufficiently large for a given purpose, upon plans made by himself, the materials for which are to be supplied by the government. The contractor, eager to complete the work, pushes it along as rapidly as possible, and fumes and worries because he is prevented from bringing it to an end by the slowness of the government in providing material; and yet, to his amazement, he finds a little later that the delay which so exasperated him is charged by the government entirely to himself.


The failure of the Government to hasten troops with sufficient diligence and speed into Washington left him still struggling with the colossal undertaking of creating an adequate army, — with the end not yet in sight when the heavy winter came on, as we have seen, — and barred the doors to an enterprise of such magnitude until the winter was over. . . .


As indicating the alleged lethargy of the new commander, Messrs. Nicolay and Hay quote from Pollard's First Year of the War, as follows: "An inauspicious quiet for many months was maintained on the lines of the Potomac. A long, lingering Indian summer, with roads more hard and skies more beautiful than Virginia had seen for many a year, invited the enemy to advance." There is no doubt that the weather invited the Northerners to advance, and there is no doubt that Johnston would have been delighted to have them advance, — but to what? Probably that captivating quotation has convinced many thousands of readers that McClellan was derelict and lacking in energy, without a thought as to whether the Army of the Potomac was fit for the task either in numbers or in discipline. In fact, it was entirely inadequate in numbers. It was even more unfit in discipline, for the terror of Bull Run had not yet left it. . . .


When we think of the skill and activity with which McClellan organized the Army of the Potomac, the permanency and perfection of his work, and the universal and enthusiastic praise which he received, we are filled with admiration; but if we turn our backs on all this to inquire what number of the bystanders (press and people), without knowledge of conditions or capacity for judging, were clamorous for a battle, whether the Army was ready or not, and what number, with sounder wisdom, desired adequate numbers and thorough preparation and organization in order to lessen bloodshed and ensure success, we are at once lost in a fog of irrelevancy.


With writers honestly desirous of reaching the truth, the chief source of confusion and contention as to McClellan's military career has been a tendency to argue over non-vital matters, and the inevitable result as usual has been to lose sight of the real and only substantial issues, if there are any;  but I think it will be seen that when the irrelevant matters disappear, the controversies disappear with them.


The situation at the time of which we speak has been very aptly and forcibly expressed in a single sentence: "It may be said , . . that coming to Washington in mid-summer, McClellan had done everything that could be reasonably expected of him in the few months before the season of bad roads set in, and that thereafter nothing could be undertaken with any chance of success until the roads had again become passable.”


"All quiet on the Potomac" became a byword; but not only on the Potomac was there quiet. We are told that "the armies everywhere remained inactive."  But only the Army of the Potomac was blamed for it. A very sensible course it was for the armies to pursue under such conditions; a course which every army pursues, or pays the penalty for not doing so, as was the case in Napoleon's Russian campaign.


It should not be lost sight of in passing that the victorious and usually very active Southern Army of Virginia was at this time also inactive. Inactivity in winter is a universal characteristic of armies, and that the Army of the Potomac possessed it was not a subject of reproach in any subsequent winter. General Michie devotes seventy-five pages of his subtle work to the "Inactivity of the Army of the Potomac." No one devotes seven lines to its inactivity during the winters which followed.


Was there any delay? Was General McClellan idling his time away? The evidence of friend and foe alike dispels such a thought. He came very near killing himself by the unresting diligence and vigor of his work. His most virulent critics admit that the swiftness of so splendid an achievement was marvelous. He built up the army, which all agree was the chief glory of the North. He should have been given a larger aggregate army than General Grant had later, for the Southern army was twice as large in the spring of 1862 as it was in the spring of 1864. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 63-65, 68-69)


Overestimation of Confederate Troop Strength


Certain writers repeatedly allude to McClellan's "absurd and preposterous overestimation of the foe," but they do not mention, nor does the most industrious and careful search reveal a single case where he made any estimation of the foe. He acted upon official advices. The Government relied upon and acted upon the same advices. Allan Pinkerton, who was in charge of that department, stoutly asserted and defended the accuracy of the reports more than twenty years later.


General Webb, a biased critic, admits that General McClellan was bound to act upon these official advices. All the general officers of the Army of the Potomac were averse to an attempt to force the passage of the Warwick or to a direct attack upon the formidable defenses of Yorktown. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 147-148)


The Needless Withholding of McDowell’s Corps; Stanton’s Shallow Pretext; Washington’s Safety and Defense


It is not disputed that the retention of McDowell's corps was the work of Stanton, and the pretext for this crowning act of treachery was that a sufficient garrison had not been left for the defense of Washington.


Never was pretense more shallow or more easily exposed. We have seen how much labor General McClellan had bestowed on the project of making the city secure from attack. "He also strengthened the fortifications at Washington in a way that made their conquest forever afterward a hopeless enterprise." The result was that the Southern leaders never thought of attacking it thereafter, even when in 1864 its capture was easily possible. So McClellan's purpose was perfectly accomplished—namely, that the capital could be held safe with a moderate force, thus enabling a larger number to take the field for offensive operations. The full force required to hold the city against assault was 30,000 men, but there was no reason why the Administration should not have kept 50,000 or 60,000 men there, if it had been so desired. Following the feeble "pepper-box" policy, Federal armies were scattered over Northern Virginia. Fremont had an army of 35,000, Banks had 25,000, Shields and Milroy each had an army of 15,000 or 20,000; McDowell had an army of 40,000; Wool had 10,000 men and Dix at Baltimore had an army of 10,000 and Wadsworth had an army of 20,000 in the Capital itself. Moreover, these troops could have been increased to any extent by enlistment. The scattered armies served only as objects of attack, and their reverses were constantly creating terror in Washington. Swinton truly says: "One hardly wishes to inquire by whose crude and fatuous inspiration these things were done . . . these detached columns invited destruction in detail. Not to have taken advantage of such an opportunity would have shown General Johnston to be a tyro in his trade." These forces should have been concentrated and kept in touch with Washington so as to be available for its defense whenever required, so as to be in effect its garrison.


That was the sensible course pursued by the Confederates. No considerable army was ever kept in Richmond; yet no Northern force could touch it without overcoming the full strength of the Army of Virginia. So practically all their military resources were continuously utilized, and no Northern army ever assaulted Richmond. Like Norfolk, it was occupied only when it was abandoned.


Here is in brief the case for Mr. Stanton: Just after General McClellan had embarked he sent a communication to the War Department which caused the Secretary great alarm for the Capital; Mr. Stanton at once ordered an investigation and found that there were only 19,022 men left to garrison the city; that this number was wholly insufficient, as a full garrison would require 30,000 men, and the President on his suggestion then issued an order detaining McDowell's corps. One of the surest and simplest methods of detecting a false pretext is to assume its truth, carry the theory out to its logical conclusion, and then compare that conclusion with the actual facts.


It is obviously a very serious matter when a commander has started on a campaign, and is already in front of the enemy, to deprive him of a third of his army. Only the clearest and most pressing necessity could excuse such a course.


Such a necessity, we are told, existed in the form of a dangerously insufficient garrison to utilize properly the widely separated and extended fortifications of the National capital, some of which, we are told, would have been entirely empty. So the corps of General McDowell was retained. Apparently, the alleged shortage in the garrison was about 11,000 men.


What was the sequel of that retention? Logically and surely in theory it would have been this: that immediately after the order detaining McDowell another order would have been issued, detaching 11,000 men from that corps and adding them to the force under General Wadsworth, to make the garrison complete.


No such order was ever made. It does not appear that a regiment, a company, or a man of that corps was ever added to the garrison. This fact alone demonstrates beyond any doubt the insincerity and falsity of Stanton's pretense.


But further demonstration is not wanting. Mr. Stanton, being a zealous patriot and wishing to do what he could to aid the cause of the Union, would have regretted the necessity of needlessly detaining a single man from McClellan's command, and so would surely have kept as few as possible; and as 11,000 at most were needed to bring the garrison up to its full strength, then if this purpose were his only one, he would not have detained 40,000 men to accomplish it. He would have withheld only the lacking number and sent the rest on to Fortress Monroe.


But that is not all. We come now to a point where the gullibility of many writers is simply ludicrous—namely, the indignant amazement of Mr. Stanton when he learned, after McClellan had already reached the Peninsula, of the perilous weakness of the garrison. The commander of the Army of the Potomac is to these writers a thief slipping off in the darkness, with his master's jewels concealed on his person. He was stealing away and leaving an insufficient garrison. But the faithful watchdog of the Capital discovered his fell design just in time to foil it.


It follows, then, from this that Mr. Stanton knew nothing of the numbers to go and to stay, and but for McClellan's report would have discovered too late the actual state of affairs. Indeed it takes supreme faith to close one's eyes and mind and gulp this down; but many have done so. . . .


Let us assume that in fact 11,000 more troops were imperatively needed in Washington, and that McDowell had gone to the Peninsula. Fremont had 35,000 men and Banks had 15,000 or 20,000, and Dix 10,000. Is it not evident that rather than enfeeble the main campaign, Banks's army should have been taken into Washington or kept so near as to be always available? As was repeatedly proven later, the surest way of securing Washington from annoyance by the enemy was to put Richmond in danger. This lesson should have been learned when without a shot having been fired the mere anticipation of McClellan's advance by the coast route had cleared the Potomac and the vicinity of Washington of the enemy.


Knowing at all times the disposition and number of the troops, it was Mr. Stanton's business to know how many men would go to the Peninsula and therefore how many would remain. Being the bookkeeper and auditor of the army, it is certain that he did know, but it is specially obvious here, for the transportation of the troops had to be provided for under the order of February 27th, and this was in fact managed by the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Tucker. To convey a regiment to Fortress Monroe was one thing; to convey 146,000 men was quite a different thing. So the great fact for Mr. Tucker, — in other words, for the War Department, — to know was: for how many transportation must be provided.


The pretext of surprise and the want of knowledge are therefore frivolous and transparently false.


It is clear that McDowell's corps was needlessly withdrawn, and as the alleged reason was the weakness of the garrison, and as the garrison was not enlarged, it is equally clear that Stanton knew that the retention was needless; and this view is strengthened by the retention of a whole corps of 40,000 or more, in order to fill up the garrison to its full quota with 11,000 men, none of whom were ever added to it.


The assigned reason for the withholding of McDowell's corps being false and the natural consequences being so serious to the lives of men and the cause of the Union, the natural suspicion arises that the action was dictated by a fearful malice and designed at any cost to destroy every chance of success. This is in harmony with the treatment of McClellan as a whole after Stanton's advent into office; for in the brusque, undignified, contemptuous, and indeed disgraceful conduct of the nation's representatives, in the total absence of the most ordinary amenities of social and official life in dealing with General McClellan, we seem to have constantly before us, despite all his craftiness and concealment, the disagreeable and rasping personality of Mr. Stanton.


The retention of McDowell's corps was just such another act as that of pushing the inadequate army out into the rain and the swamps in the midst of a severe winter; an act of the highest turpitude and possessing all the moral guilt of treason, since its purpose must have been the defeat of the army and the useless sacrifice of thousands of men battling loyally for the Union. We have already learned from his co-secretaries, Mr. Chase and Mr. Welles, whence the sinister inspiration came, namely, from Stanton's hatred and his determination to get rid of McClellan. "Thus within four days, the commander who had left the National Capital authorized to execute a definite campaign with certain prescribed means and vested with the control of the forces, communications and supplies upon which he had planned for success, found himself suddenly shorn of every element of necessary strength and reduced to the hazardous military necessity of a radical alteration of his plans while in contact with the enemy." (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 133-138)


Siege of Yorktown; Norfolk as Naval Objective


From the moment he set foot on the Peninsula General McClellan kept the War Department fully informed of everything he discovered, and as early as April the 5th the Government learned from him the probable necessity of securing heavy artillery to besiege Yorktown  and again on the 7th, and General Keyes in his letter of April 7th to Senator Harris, which he asks him to show to the President (and in a matter so urgent it must be assumed that this was done) the following direct statement is made, "On the other hand we must butt against the enemy's works with heavy artillery and [with] a great waste of time, life, and material." In his letter of March 19th General McClellan had warned the Government of the result to be expected if naval aid were lacking.


Finding himself stopped by the Warwick [the Warwick River], with ample and rapidly increasing forces behind it, flanked by the James on one side and the York on the other, and with both rivers in command of the rebels. General McClellan found that the siege of Yorktown was indispensable to his advance. Not until the 16th was his army fully gathered on the Peninsula, and meantime, despite the constant rains, all his plans for the siege were matured; on the 17th the ground was broken for the siege operations, certain heavy guns were ordered, and more than a week later, as through some fault of the authorities they had not arrived, they were again asked for.


The reply affects to be in total ignorance of the first request, and is in the usual form of governmental apology, as follows: "Your call for Parrott guns from Washington alarms me, chiefly because it argues indefinite procrastination. Is anything to be done?"


The siege works were so well and rapidly and convincingly prosecuted that sixteen days later, on May 3d, just as the bombardment was about to begin Yorktown was, by Lee's advice, abandoned. For a formidable position, this was by far the shortest siege on record. It has no parallel in the annals of the war.


Of General McClellan's energy at this time Mr. Prime says: "While politicians were plotting, McClellan was working. It is impossible to over-estimate the laborious character of the general's life. His whole soul was in his work: his every energy and thought was given to it. He was always, while in Washington and while in the field, in the habit of seeing personally, as far as possible, to the execution of important orders. Out of countless illustrations of this which might be given, let one suffice. The lieutenant-colonel of that superb regiment, the 1st Conn. Artillery, wrote to me from the works before Yorktown that, a little after midnight, the previous rainy night, while the men were at work in the trenches. McClellan rode up, attended by a single orderly, sprang from his horse, inspected the work, gave some directions, remounted, and rode away. About three a. m. he reappeared as before, approved the work, gave further directions, and vanished. My correspondent met him at his headquarters before seven a.m., and also met there a friend, whose regiment was stationed some miles away, who told him that the general had surprised them by a visit and inspection about two a.m. The soldiers soon learned not to be surprised at his appearance among them anywhere, at any hour of day or night."


On evacuating Yorktown the Confederates removed many of the guns and replaced them with dummies, as had been done at Manassas.


Still ninety-one guns of various calibers were left. Because of the statement that many guns were carried off and replaced by dummies certain thoughtless writers jump at the conclusion that only dummies were there originally. This shows how deeply they were inoculated with Mr. Stanton's mode of reasoning.


General Barnard claims that during the winter he suggested to General McClellan the wisdom of capturing Norfolk by a special expedition, but McClellan was averse to such petty enterprises, as he felt sure that Norfolk would be abandoned when his advance upon Richmond was fairly under way. How sagacious was his judgment will be seen a little later.


Moreover, Norfolk was a seaport, and if a special expedition against it would have been desirable, such an expedition was work for the navy and much easier work than many of its great exploits during the war. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 163-165)


Washington Interference and the Battle of Fair Oaks (Seven Pines)


If there had been no interference from Washington, there would have been no battle of Fair Oaks. In the first place, the Union army would have been on the James; but waiving that, the army, if on the Chickahominy, would not have been astride of it. If the hope of McDowell had not been held out and the army forced into a perilous position, it would have been in a compact body and would have struck first. It was the waiting for McDowell under a positive order that checked the advance, and this compulsory delay was mistaken for hesitation and timidity, and brought on an attack. The weather played a prominent role in this fierce drama. Many careless or uninformed writers, knowing that there were on the 31st of May only two bridges over that part of the river which separated the two corps already mentioned from the rest of the army, think that General McClellan showed no wisdom in not providing for more ready communication. They are unaware that more than twenty bridges were built under his orders, but they were all swept away by the unprecedented floods, — except the two mentioned, — and only one, the Grapevine Bridge, was really serviceable. Moreover, while the rain came down in torrents, the work of entrenching could not continue; otherwise Casey's division would have been much better prepared on the 31st to meet the brunt of the rebel attack. . . . (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, p. 188)


Union Victory at Fair Oaks; McClellan’s Determination to Renew Advance on Richmond; Impact of Weather; Inexcusable Failure to Send McDowell’s Corps to McClellan


If we give heed to those who were not present, like General Johnston, or to those who were present but would like to forget it, like General Longstreet, there was no second day; but if we prefer the testimony of General G. W. Smith, who succeeded to the chief command of the Southern army on the afternoon of the 31st when General Johnston was severely wounded and carried from the field, and if we listen to the Union officers whose attention General Smith occupied very pressingly on the first of June, 1862, there was a very severe conflict on the second day, which General Johnston knew nothing about and which General Longstreet naturally had no desire to remember.


On the morning of June 1st the Union army was greatly strengthened. Richardson's division with three batteries was added to Sedgwick's, and General Hooker's division had come up from White Oak Swamp. The brunt of the attack conducted by Longstreet on the Confederate right was borne by Richardson, who was soon assisted by Hooker; the enemy was driven back and all the positions lost on the preceding day were now regained. . . .


The design of the [Confederate] attack had failed; and the character of the contest for the two days is indicated by the fact that the total Union loss was 5,031, the total Southern loss 6,134.


On the 2d of June the commander issued a proclamation complimenting the bravery of his men in past engagements and calling upon them to make one last, supreme, decisive effort in the great battle at hand. This is by certain writers supposed to be solely a conditional intention, in the full belief that McDowell's legions would be no longer withheld. But this view cannot be harmonized with McClellan's private letters to his wife. From these letters it is evident that, McDowell or no McDowell, his plan was laid to strike as soon as the elemental conditions would permit. For, if the ground had solidity enough to give him the full use of his artillery, he felt that, thanks to himself, his strong equipment in that line largely atoned for his inadequacy . of numbers. But during the first twenty days of June a practically continuous tempest seemed to exclude the idea that there would ever come a surcease of earth-soaking rain. It required labor and ingenuity to keep the field-guns from sinking out of sight in the jelly-like mud.


With this great factor in his operations paralyzed, he could not have moved, even if McDowell had joined him. Like Napoleon, he had to wait for the rain to stop and the earth to dry. Unaware of or forgetting the obstacles created by Jupiter Pluvius, one writer says he should at this time have attacked Richmond, as he was within five miles of it; another asserts that this was his chance to move unmolested to the James. But he could not do this, for the order which placed him there held him there to await McDowell, who was still coming. The folly of an assault upon Richmond will be made clearly evident.


But for the terrible weather, General McClellan could have made his position impregnable, and could have constructed so many bridges over the river that it would no longer have been a factor in the movements of either army; but the repeated bridging of the stream kept the Union forces busy whenever the elements made work possible. No time need be given to that consideration, however, for if the weather had been fit either for working or fighting, it is clear to any one who studies the movements, the dispatches, and, more than all, the private letters of the commander that he would not have waited long for McDowell. He would have struck and relied on his efficient artillery to more than offset the preponderance of numbers against him; and that there was a great preponderance we will demonstrate at the proper time by irresistible proofs. Handicap after handicap had been heaped upon him ever since the appearance of Mr. Stanton in the arena of politics, but far beyond all these was the overwhelming downpour, chilling alike the bodies, the spirits, and the courage of the most resolute, wrecking every plan, and paralyzing every form of activity.


While holding both the army of Lee and the army of McClellan inert, the weather should for this very reason have encouraged Mr. Stanton to accede to the oft-repeated appeals of the Union general to send McDowell's corps to him by water. For this he was constantly importuning. If McDowell had been sent to West Point by water about the time when Franklin arrived there, or in the flooding days of May and June, or to Urbanna and thence by a short march to West Point, the united army could with ease have located itself between the enemy and Washington. Mr. Edward Ellis says: "The labor and loss of time in bridging the Chickahominy would have been saved, and the forces being concentrated, there is every reason to believe that the fall of Richmond would have followed. The ever present fear of the capture of Washington, prevented the President from complying with the request of McCIellan." Speaking of the result of the dislodging of the enemy at Hanover Court House, General Porter assures us that "our movement had caused the rapid retreat to Richmond of Joseph R. Anderson's command, thereby relieving McDowell from active operations in Northern Virginia, as well as opening the way for him to join us". . . .


[Quoting Alexander Webb] "Despite delays, drawn battles, losses and depletions from natural obstacles, McClellan had succeeded as he had promised in reaching the vicinity of the rebel capital and thus relieving Washington, alarming the Southern leaders and raising the anticipations of the North. It would seem that on this favored outlook, the government would have strained every move to carry the campaign successfully through by reinforcing the army". . . . 


The confident manner in which McClellan cleared the way for McDowell illustrates his aggressiveness, and indicates beyond doubt that if it had been desirable for McClellan to join McDowell at Fredericksburg, this would have been promptly effected. There would then have been no waiting at all. What makes the terror of the government at this time appear especially amazing and culpable is the fact that a captured letter from General Johnston at this time plainly stated that the sole object of Jackson's raid was to frighten the Federal authorities and thus to detain McDowell from McClellan. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 191-193, 195, 197)


McClellan’s Anticipation of Moving His Force to the James River Before the Seven Days Battles Began


General McClellan held the military sagacity of General Lee in the highest estimation; and as the days passed, and the rain still came pouring down, and abundant time was given his opponent to consider the situation of the Federal army, McClellan foresaw what was likely to happen. If the storms continued and McDowell failed to arrive, fate would set him free to go where he had always wished to go, — that is, to the James. On June the 4th he wrote to the President. . . .


On June the i8th, anticipating that McDowell would come neither by land nor water and that the great army of Lee would cut him off from West Point, he arranged to have the vessels in the York convey his supplies to the James. But he was not free yet, for McDowell was still "coming"; and the order which anchored him on the Chickahominy was still in force. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 199, 201)


Stanton’s Propaganda; Government Hostility; Misrepresenting McClellan


At this juncture we have clear proof of the cunning and perfidy of Mr. Stanton. Fully advised by McClellan's dispatches of the dispiriting difficulties of rain and flood and their attendant evils, against which McClellan was battling in the Virginian bogs; knowing of the extraordinary forces collecting to defend Richmond; and keeping, and continuing to keep, away from McClellan the forces which alone could ensure a successful assault, he as the national press agent circulated the report through all the journals of the nation that Richmond was about to fall. But for Stanton the army would have been united and would have been much larger and better equipped; but for him it would not have been battling with bogs and floods and rain. He had every reason to expect a disaster or at least a repulse. Such a result was not merely to be expected by him. He had ensured it. Yet he so represented the situation that many great journals of the nation had fireworks fixed upon their buildings ready to be touched off the instant the news was flashed to them, and great preparations were made to celebrate the floating of our flag over the ramparts of Richmond, and on the nearly approaching Fourth of July was to be celebrated the fall of the Southern Capital and the death-blow to the rebellion. No more crafty plot than this for the overthrow and ruin of a patriotic and able general was ever conceived. With such an impression everywhere, disaster, repulse, or even much delay would naturally stir up strong adverse feeling.


The Comte de Paris intimates that it was a perfidious scheme of Stanton's, designed to excite public opinion against McClellan. Our present knowledge of Stanton's hostility to McClellan, proven by the testimony of his co-secretaries and even by his own letters, tends to confirm this view. . . .


The Compte de Paris says: "The government, still cherishing a secret jealousy of McClellan, seldom communicated to the public the tidings it received from him." "The government sought to conceal facts which made the chief responsibility for reverses fall upon itself. It persistently refused to give the text of McClellan's dispatches to the papers and when the whole series of official documents were given to the Committee on the Conduct of the War it permitted itself to mutilate the text of its correspondence with the general, without making any mention of the omissions." (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 205-206)


The Battle of Antietam; McClellan’s and Lee’s Forces; and McClellan’s Decision Not to Renew Attack on September 18


At 5 p.m. Lee concentrated his artillery upon the Union right, intending to advance, turn that wing of the Federal army, and force McClellan to retire toward Harper's Ferry, leaving the whole North open to him. A terrible artillery duel ensued, but the superior efficiency of McClellan's guns was quickly evident, and the design was abandoned. Jackson says, "I found his numerous artillery so judiciously placed as to render it inexpedient to hazard the attempt”. . . .


Some critics blame McClellan for not resuming the attack on the 18th, but his action was dictated by the wisest prudence. Probably none who censure would have done differently, had they been in McClellan's position. The question is not whether we now believe he would have probably succeeded, but whether, considering the condition of his army, it was prudent to make the attempt. With powerful enemies at the head of the government seeking his ruin, with soldiers not yet restored to their full spirit and efficiency, it behooved him to be prudent, for defeat would have been fraught with results appalling to the country as well as to himself. Surely the road of prudence was in this instance also the highway of wisdom. General Meade followed the same wise course at Gettysburg. . . .


There was some effort at pursuit by Porter's corps, but the Potomac lay between the two armies and afforded so much advantage to the Confederates that the attempt to harass them further was soon abandoned.


The army needed rest, reorganization, reequipment. Of the end of the campaign General Franklin writes: "History will one day tell why the Confederate army was not driven into the Potomac instead of across it. It will show that its escape was not due to want of generalship of the commanding general, nor to the absence of necessary orders to subordinates."


The losses at Antietam were: Union, 12,410; Confederate, 25,899. The forces engaged were: Lee, 179 regiments of infantry, I4 regiments of cavalry, and 71 batteries; McClellan, 184 regiments of infantry, 15 regiments of cavalry, and 50 batteries.


Twenty-one regiments of the above 184 were raw recruits, and 27 others were in Franklin's corps, with 7 of the 50 batteries, and did not arrive until between noon and one o'clock, while the battle, it will be remembered, began on the afternoon of the 1 6th and was resumed at daylight on the 17th. The above figures are taken from Captain Heipinger's Antietam and will be a surprise to those who have believed from false statements that McClellan had an overwhelming superiority of force.


General Upton tells us that at this time there were 71,210 men at Washington, and that "50,000 of these could have been at Antietam, and if they had been, it is fair to infer that little would have been heard of the Confederacy after the Maryland campaign." (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 391, 393)


Washington’s Delay in Getting Critical Supplies to McClellan After the Battle of Antietam


Lee's purpose was foiled. The North was saved. Surely, thought they [McClellan’s soldiers], that was enough to expect of this army, considering its recent experiences. It came wearied to Antietam. It was more weary now. It needed a long rest after Bull Run. It needed that rest still more now. All the army needed reorganizing — many of the soldiers were raw recruits, novices in drill and discipline. Above all, because of the calamity of Bull Run No. 2, the army needed to be reequipped. It was woefully destitute of the necessaries of life.


With the invasion of Maryland, an emergency arose which had to be met instantly; no choice of action was left. Ready or not ready, organized or not, fit or unfit, the army had to start out at once to block the advance of Lee into the North. But for this condition, the army should have had a couple of months' rest (as it had before Gettysburg) to restore its nerve, to revive its morale. General McClellan makes all this clear, as we have shown.


Accordingly, the army was now gathered about the vicinity of Harper's Ferry, and requisitions for clothes, camp utensils, and so on were hurried to Washington. As the articles came slowly and in insufficient quantity, General McClellan kept urging the authorities to hasten, and they in turn insisted that the orders had been filled, which was literally true but meant nothing, as a large portion had not yet arrived. It speaks badly for the administrative functions of the commissary general's office that, weeks later, train loads of these supplies were found on the tracks in Washington — forgotten. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 394-395)


Lack of Horses; Lincoln’s Barb About Horses


But just at the very time when he had received the warmest and most earnest assurances of the cordial cooperation of the President, and the prospect seemed very hopeful, the proofs came flooding upon him that Svengali had reappeared upon the scene, for the President's communications became suddenly and without cause bitter, unreasonable, senseless. There was urgent need of horses. There was a scanty supply, and of those on hand a very large number were incapacitated by a strange disease that was caused no doubt by overwork. An allusion to this brought forth the following Stanton-inspired response, written without the slightest knowledge of the facts, and without effort to ascertain them.


"To Maj.-Gen. McClellan:


“I have just received your dispatch about sore-tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?


"A. Lincoln."


Such a caustic, undignified letter, so out of accord with the generally accepted idea of the patience, wisdom, and kindness of the President, makes one not only marvel, but also look for the malign inspiration which produced it. And we seem to find it in the fact that Mr. Stanton was again the private counselor of the President.


In reply, McClellan pointed out the arduous work of the cavalry in making reconnaissances, in scouting and picketing, and in pursuing Stuart's cavalry. He concludes by saying: "If any instance can be found where overworked cavalry has performed more labor than mine since the battle of Antietam, I am not conscious of it." (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, p. 398)


Strange Timing of Lincoln’s Decision to Remove McClellan from Command


Once over the river and supplied as far as could be expected at that time, the army pushed ahead vigorously. Jefferson Davis expressed his surprise at the speed of it. On the 7th of November the army was massed at and about Warrenton. Lee and Longstreet, with half the Rebel army, were at Culpeper, only six miles away from McClellan's advance guard. Jackson, with the other half, was beyond the Blue Ridge, at least 125 miles away. Mr. Swinton speaks of this movement with warm praise. "Advancing due southward toward Warrenton, he masked the movement by guarding the passes of the Blue Ridge, and by threatening to issue through these, he compelled Lee to retain Jackson in the valley. With such success was this movement managed that on reaching Warrenton on the 9th, while Lee had sent half of his army forward to Culpeper to oppose McClellan's advance in that direction, the other half was still west of the Blue Ridge, scattered up and down the valley, and separated from the other moiety by at least two days' march. McClellan's next projected move was to strike across obliquely westward and interpose between the severed divisions of the Confederate forces". . . .


The Confederate forces were split in twain. Jackson was at Winchester, 125 miles away, and all the available gaps of the Blue Ridge by which Jackson might otherwise join Lee, — namely. Snicker's, Ashby's, Chester, and Thornton's,— were all "corked up" and held in strong force, so that Jackson could bring no aid to Lee for the approaching battle.


Lee was therefore isolated, and the preponderance of McClellan's forces left no doubt as to the result of the coming battle. McClellan had 268 regiments of infantry, 18 regiments of cavalry, and 73 batteries; while Lee had only 89 regiments of infantry, 15 regiments of cavalry, and 45 batteries.


This made the proportions of the two armies about 3 to 1, and left no doubt that McClellan would overwhelm Lee's weakened force.


Jackson had at Winchester 91 regiments of infantry, 3 regiments and 2 battalions of cavalry, and 23 batteries.


The peril to his army was so imminent, the chance of escape so slight, that it is said Lee for the only time in the war was bewildered. And his dispatches of November the 7th, the 8th, and the 9th seem to show that he was.


It will he seen, therefore, that there was every likelihood that McClellan's now powerful army, confident of its leader and full of courage because of that confidence, would quickly fall with irresistible force on the isolated half of the Rebel army under Lee. A complete Union victory was promised by every existing condition. Nothing more desirable than the broad wall between the two parts of the Confederate forces can be imagined. Yet it was made a pretext for McClellan's removal, and we are earnestly and gravely assured by one of the President's biographers that he had determined that if McClellan should permit Lee to cross the Blue Ridge and place himself between Richmond and the Army of the Potomac (a movement to be prayed for, not prevented) he would remove him from command. The folly of such a resolution — oblivious as Lincoln must have been of the advantage to the Union of the very movement which he decided in advance would be a calamity — is too evident to warrant any commentary. Another story reflects almost equally upon the capacity of the President to judge properly of the military situation at this time and of the favorable opportunity presented for a great Union victory. Someone said to him, "What do you think of your general now?" The President replied: “We had a game when I was a boy called 'Three Times Round and Out.' Stuart has been round the Union army a second time, and if he goes around again, it will be three times around and out for General McClellan." Still another tale: When Mr. Stanton heard that Lee and Longstreet were at Culpeper, he asked the oft repeated question: "Well, what do you think of your general now?" "As you do," was the President's astonishing response. And it is said that an undated order was issued at once for McClellan's removal. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 399-401


McClellan’s Letters to His Wife


The innermost sanctuary of the heart of the general has been exposed to the gaze of the world by the publication of these letters to his wife. Even among the best of men very few could go unhurt through such an ordeal. Not all men will understand this. But every man who tenderly loves his wife and feels that in her devoted heart he is idealized, and that he longs to maintain that innocent worship, will understand it. Mr. Rhodes has had the manhood to see this and the honesty to call attention to it. Other writers are unmindful of it and have ungraciously used these private letters to injure General McClellan; for instance, to prove that he was conceited. In such heart revelations to his wife there is hardly one man in ten thousand of actual power and efficiency who would not appear conceited. Can we imagine a man of rare capacity who is unaware of his gifts or puts no value upon them, or who would not glorify them to an affectionate wife?  But that is not the worst feature. The worst feature is the concealment, the uncandid silence as to the conclusive proof which these letters afford of McClellan's kindness of heart, sincerity of purpose, unflinching courage, forgiving spirit, devotion to country, piety, and love of home and wife and his little May and the charms of a quiet life. I feel sure that no man who is happy in his domestic circle or in whom the domestic instinct is lively can read these letters without having his heart warm to the writer. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, pp. 42-43)


Dismissal of McClellan; Burnside’s Disaster; Army of Potomac Singing Song About McClellan


Gloom and discouragement filled the army [after McClellan was dismissed], and desertions ran into hundreds daily. The soldiers, knowing Burnside's failure at South Mountain and Antietam, had no confidence in him. He immediately proved that their distrust was not unfounded by staying the advance upon Lee and retiring eastward toward Fredericksburg, where, being followed up by the Rebels thus allowed to unite, he delayed attack until they had secured the most invulnerable position in the neighborhood with one hundred thousand men to defend it, and then he assaulted the position and was repulsed with terrific slaughter. This was the battle of Fredericksburg. A clamor arose for the restoration of McClellan, but Stanton gave no heed to it. Up to this time there had been no difficulty in getting volunteers, but patriotism was chilled by the conduct of the Administration. Enlistments stopped and soldiers could be secured only by being drafted.


The Army of the Potomac was on the point of revolt. Winner, a famous song writer of the period, composed a song about this time entitled "Give Us Back Our Old Commander." This song became so popular in the Army of the Potomac and was so enthusiastically sung by the soldiers that the Government suppressed both the singing and the song, and imprisoned the composer; and no copy of it can now be found anywhere, except in the Library of Congress. The various collections of Civil War songs do not mention it. (McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan, p. 411)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force, and an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.  He is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in Arabic and Hebrew, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  He has completed advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.  He is also the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts and one book on the John F. Kennedy assassination.


Mike Griffith’s Civil War website