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A CIVILIAN, ignorant of the art of war, can only judge a military man by what he accomplishes in the long run by his policy and action; and it is difficult for such a judge to perceive what General McClellan accomplished, with his magnificent army of a hundred and sixty thousand as good soldiers as ever the sun shone upon-well drilled, well fed, well clothed and well armed—but to scatter and wear out that army, volunteer general advice to a government that was presumed to be competent to the management of its own affairs, and win the doubtful honor of becoming the favorite of men who, from the first, opposed the war, and threw all possible obstacles in the way of its successful prosecution. The whole history of McClellan's operations is a history of magnificent preparations and promises, of fatal hesitations and procrastinations, of clamoring for more preparations, and justifications of hesitations and procrastinations, of government indulgence and forbearance, of military intrigues within the camp, of popular impatience and alarms, and of the waste of great means and golden opportunities. Even the opportunity of becoming the hero of Antietam" came to General McClellan through his culpable remissness in permitting the enemy to cross the Potomac; and this victory lost all its value by his failure to gather its fruits.
When General McClellan assumed command, he found waiting for him fifty thousand men, more or less, in and around Washington. He assumed command during the last days of July; and, within a period of less than three months,
that army was raised to a force of more than a hundred and fifty thousand men, with five hundred pieces of artillery. The people gave him more men than any one commander was ever known to handle effectively in the field; and the government lavishly bestowed upon his army all the material of war. The unfortunate matter of Ball's Bluff, which occurred on the twenty-second of October, has already found record. This was the first return for the fresh means that the government had placed at the commanding General's disposal. The Potomac was blockaded by a small force of rebels, and both the President and Secretary of War felt that there was no necessity for permitting this vexatious and humiliating blockade to continue. · They tried to induce McClellan to aid in this business; and, at one time in October, he agreed to send four thousand men to co-operate with a naval force for this purpose; but he falsified his promise, on the ground that his engineers told him that so large a force could not be landed. It did not matter that the department assumed the responsibility of landing the troops. It did not matter, even, that he made another promise to send the troops. They were never sent, the second refusal being based upon his fear of bringing on a general engagement, which was exactly what ought to have been brought on. Captain Craven of the navy, with whom these troops were to co-operate, threw up his command in disgust, and the rebels never were driven away from the Potomac. They kept this grand highway closed until the following spring, and then retired of their own accord, and at leisure.
The confidence in General McClellan on the part of the government and the country generally was at this time unbounded; and he could not appear among his soldiers without such demonstrations of enthusiastic affection as few commanders have ever received. On the first of November he succeeded General Scott in the command of all the armies of the Union, still retaining personal command of the Army of the Potomac; but he seemed to be unable to move. Cautious, hesitating, always finding fresh obstacles to a movement, he permitted the golden days of autumn to pass away. In the meantime, the government was urging him to do something, as the rebel forces were massing in his front, and the country was clamorous for action. Instead of holding the commanding General responsible for these delays, the country blamed the government, and manifested its dissatisfaction by its votes in the fall elections.
All that autumn passed away, and not a blow was struck. The Potomac was closed to government war vessels and transports, by a few batteries which the over-cautious General was afraid to touch.
Mr. Lincoln was determined to break the spell which seemed to hold the General's mind; and, on the twenty-seventh of January, he issued an order that on the twenty-second day of February, 1862, there should be a general movement of the land and naval forces of the United States, against the insurgent armies—especially the army at and about Fortress Monroe, the army of the Potomac, the army of Western Virginia, the army near Mumfordsville, Kentucky, the army and flotilla at Cairo, and a naval force in the gulf of Mexico. He further declared "that the heads of departments, and especially the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, with all their subordinates, and the General-in-Chief with all other commanders and subordinates of land and naval forces, will severally be held to their strict and full responsibilities for prompt execution of this order.” On the thirty-first of Januaryfour days afterward—he issued another order, specially to the army of the Potomac, to engage, on or before the twentysecond of February, in the attempt to seize upon and occupy a point upon the railroad south-west of Manassas Junction, the details of the movement to be in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief.
To this last order of the President, General McClellan replied in a long letter to the Secretary of War. Ile objected to the President's plan, that the roads would be bad at the season proposed; and wished to substitute a plan of his own, which had in its favor a better soil for the moving of troops. He wished to move by the Lower Rappahannock, making Urbana his base. He would throw upon the new line from one hundred and ten thousand to one hundred and forty thousand troops, according to circumstances, hoping to use the latter number, by bringing such fresh troops into Washington as would protect the capital. He “respectfully but firmly” advised that he might be permitted to make this substitution of his own for the President's plan. So firm was he that he was willing to say: "I will stake my life, my reputation, on the result,—more than that, I will stake on it the success of our cause." His judgment, he declared, was against the movement on Manassas. On the third of February, Mr. Lincoln addressed a note to the General on this difference of opinion, which ought to have shown him that his superior was a competent adviser and a keen critic:
“My dear Sir:-You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the army of the Potomac; yours to be done by the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock, to Urbana, and across land to the terminus of the railroad on the York River; mine to move directly to a point on the railroad south-west of Manassas. If you will give satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plans to yours:
“1. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine? **2. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine? “3. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine?
“4. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this: that it would break no great line of the enemy's communications, while mine would ?
“5. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine?”
General McClellan replied to this through the Secretary of War, after his fashion; but the President was not convinced, and finally agreed to submit the two plans to a council of twelve officers. This council, eight to four, decided in favor of the General's plan. The President acquiesced; but the rebels rendered both plans useless by withdrawing from Manassas on the ninth of March to the other side of the Rappahannock-which date will be seen to be two weeks later than the date fixed for the advance of all the armies by the President.
On the eighth of March, the President ordered General McClellan to organize that part of his army which he proposed to engage in active operations, into four Army Corps, to be commanded respectively by General McDowell, General Sumner, General Heintzelman and General Keyes; and directed the order to be executed with such dispatch as not to delay operations already determined on—alluding to the movement by the Chesapeake and Rappahannock. On the same day, he issued another order: that no change of base should take place without leaving in and about Washington such an army as should make the city secure; that no more than two army corps should move before the Potomac should be cleared of rebel batteries; and that the movement should begin as early as the eighteenth of March.
On the next day, as has already been stated, the enemy retired unsuspected and undisturbed from his defenses; and then General McClellan moved forward, not to pursue, according to his own authority, but to give his troops some exercise, and a taste of the march and bivouac, before more active operations. On the fifteenth, the army moved back to Alexandria.
On the eleventh of March, General McClellan was relieved from the command of other military departments, because he had personally taken the field. Major-General Halleck received the command of the department of the Mississippi, and General Fremont that of the mountain department. On the thirteenth, a council of war decided that, as the enemy had retreated behind the Rappahannock, the new base of operations should be Fortress Monroe, on certain conditions which touched the neutralization of the power of the Merrimac, (an iron plated rebel vessel which had already destroyed the frigates Cumberland and Congress, and been beaten back by the Monitor,) means of transportation, and naval auxiliaries sufficient to silence the batteries on York River. On the same day, Mr. Stanton wrote to General McClellan, stating that the