Page images
PDF
EPUB

randum" conveys no impression of the slightest concern on McClellan's part about the present security of Washington. Yet only four days after this review of the whole field of army operations — in itself unavoidably an occasion of offense to the General-in-chief, if known to him — McClellan wrote to Scott directly (August 8th), unsolicited, another review of the military situation, assuming that the capital is in “imminent danger," and urging “with the utmost earnestness' the measures which he thinks needful for the occasion. Next day the Lieutenant-General wrote to Secretary Cameron (the “only reply” he intended for this communication):

Had Major-General McClellan presented the same views in person, they would have been freely entertained and discussed. All my military views and opinions had been so presented to him without eliciting any remark, in our few meetings, which I have in vain sought to multiply. He has stood on his guard, and now places himself on record. Let him make the most of his advantage. Major-General McClellan has propagated, in high quarters, the idea expressed in the letter before me, that Washington was not only “insecure,” but in “imminent danger." Relying on our numbers, our forts, and the Potomac River, I am confident in the opposite opinion; and considering the stream of new regiments that is pouring in upon us (before this alarm could have reached their homes), I have not the slightest apprehension for the safety of the Government here.

Having now been long unable to mount a horse, or to walk more than a few paces at a time, and, consequently, being unable to review troops — much less to direct them in battle — in short, being broken down by many particular hurts, besides the general infirmities of age — I feel that I have become an incumbrance to the army as well as to myself, and that I ought to give way to a younger commander - to seek the palliations of physical pain and exhaustion. Accordingly, I must beg the President, at the earliest moment, to allow me to be placed on the officers' retired list, and then quietly to lay myself up — probably forever — somewhere in or about New York. But wherever I may spend my little remainder of life, my frequent and latest prayer will be: God save the Union !”

The President anxiously endeavored to dissuade the Lieutenant-General from a step so unwelcome, and to restore better relations between the two officers. The immediate effect appears in the following autograph letter (copied by the writer, with Secretary Stanton's consent, in 1864, but not published):

HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,

WASHINGTON, August 12, 1861. The Honorable, the Secretary of War:

Sir:- On the roth instant I was kindly requested by the President to withdraw my letter to you, of the gth, in reply to one I had received from Major-General McClellan, of the day before — the President, at the same time, showing me a letter to him from General McClellan, in which, at the instance of the President, he offered to withdraw the original letter on which I had animadverted.

While the President was yet with me, on that occasion, a servant handed me a letter, which proved to be an unauthenticated copy, under a blank cover, of the same letter from General McC. to the President. This slight was not without its influence on my mind.

The President's visit, however, was from the patriotic purpose of healing differences, and so much did I honor his motive that I deemed it due to him to hold his proposition under consideration for some little time. I deeply regret that, notwithstanding my high respect for the opinions and wishes of the President, I can not withdraw the letter in question, for these reasons:

1. The original offense given to me by Major-General McClellan (see his letter of the 8th instant) seems to have been the result of deliberation between him and some of the members of the Cabinet, by whom all the greater war questions are to be settled without resort to, or consultation with, me, the nominal General-in-chief of the army. In further proof of this neglect — although it is unofficially known that, in the last week (or six days), many regiments have arrived, and others have changed their positions — some to a considerable distance — not one of these movements has been reported to me (or anything else) by Major-General McClellan; — while it is believed, and, I may add, known, that he is in frequent communication with portions of the Cabinet, and on matters appertaining to me. That freedom of access and consultation have, very naturally, deluded the junior General into a feeling of indifference toward * his senior.

2. With such supports on his part, it would be as idle for me, as it would be against the dignity of my years, to be filing daily complaints against an ambitious junior, who, independent of the extensive advantages alluded to, has, unquestionably, very high qualifications for military command. I trust they may achieve crowning victories in behalf of the Union.

3. I have, in my letter to you of the 9th instant, already said enough on — to others — the disgusting subject, my many physical infirmities. I will here only add that, borne down as I am by them, I should, unavoidably, be in the way at headquarters, even if my abilities for war were now greater than when I was young.

I have the honor to be, sir, with high respect, your most obedient servant,

WINFIELD Scott. Eventually, however, the Lieutenant-General consented for the present to remain at his post.

On the 17th of August the troops of the hitherto separate departments of Washington and Northeastern Virginia, together with those serving in the Shenandoah Valley, on the Upper Potomac, and in Maryland and Delaware, were consolidated under the name of the Army of the Potomac, with headquarters at Washington, to be under the command of Major-General

* The words “superiority over" had been erased, and "indifference toward” written above.

[ocr errors]

McClellan. Before the close of August sanguine people were expecting a speedy and victorious advance of the reorganized army. What were the numbers and condition of the force under Johnston? McClellan had an elaborate spy system, which ought to have given him exact information. But the Comte de Paris says the General singularly overrated the strength and discipline of the opposing army, giving Johnston a total of 150,000,whereas in reality on the 31st of October it only numbered 66,243 in all, of whom only 44,131 were present in the field”; and was “equally mistaken in regard to the discipline of his adversaries." Jefferson Davis (as he says in his Rise and Fall of the Confederacy) visited Johnston at Fairfax Courthouse on the ist of October, and found that, in spite of the frequent reinforcements sent him, he had still a force not much larger than on the 21st of July. We learn elsewhere that desertions were numerous. In fact, the difference in effective men was more than three to one in favor of McClellan's army.

On the roth of September, the President, the Secretary of War, and the Governor of Pennsylvania visited certain regiments from that State in their camp. General McClellan was present, and shook hands with officers and men. A soldier ventured to say to him: “ General, we are anxious to wipe out Bull Run; hope you will allow us to do it soon?” The prompt reply was: “Very soon, if the enemy does not run.”

September passed away; October was passing; and all the while his army was increasing. There were daily · regimental parades; less frequent but repeated brigade reviews; reviews of infantry, artillery, cavalry. Magnifi

cent was the pageant of seventy thousand men arrayed on the slopes and meadows of Virginia on an October day, closing, as the onlooking multitude swarmed back towards the capital, with the music of heavy Confederate guns at Fairfax Courthouse — just a short march away. Was not this a final display preluding earnest battle? An authoritative intimation of such import was received by Dr. Russell, whose account of the disaster three months before had given such offense, and who was waiting to do justice to the return blow.

On the 20th reconnoissances were made all along the line. Johnston's left, extending to Leesburg, had been occupying Falls Church, with pickets well advanced toward the Chain Bridge, but in all that quarter up to and beyond Dranesville, to which McCall's division was sent, no eneny was now discernible. Smith, whose division camped near the Chain Bridge, accompanied by McClellan, FitzJohn Porter, and Hancock, reconnoitered to within two or three miles of Fairfax Courthouse, where the enemy seemed to be in some force, the only Confederates seen on this wide excursion. Heintzelman at the same time sent out a reconnoitering party from his post below Alexandria, with like result. From General Banks, at the other extreme, on the Upper Potomac, came the simultaneous report that the enemy had moved away from Leesburg. Stone, at Poolesville, on the immediate left of Banks, was informed by McClellan of the presence of McCall at Dranesville, and ordered to keep a good lookout on Leesburg to see if this movement had the effect to drive the enemy away. “ Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part,” it was added, “would have the effect to move

« PreviousContinue »