Page images
PDF
EPUB

to be promptly reinforced, and thrown again upon Richmond. He wanted the whole of General Burnside's command in North Carolina to help him. He dreaded the effects of a retreat upon the morale of his army, although he had just tried it, and declared, in a dispatch of the eleventh, that the army was in “fine spirits.”

On the thirteenth, the President wrote him that one hundred and sixty thousand men had gone with his army to the Peninsula, and that, when he was with him, a few days before, he was informed that only eighty-six thousand remained, leaving seventy-three thousand five hundred to be accounted · for. After making all allowances for deaths, wounds and sickness, fifty thousand men were still absent. General MeClellan replied that 38,250 men were atsent by authority. Here was a reinforcement at command worth having. Why did the General let them go? Why did he not call them back?

It was determined at last to withdraw the army from the Peninsula, and the order found McClellan still protesting. “The true defense of Washington” was just where he was. He received the order to remove his sick on the second of August; but it was not until the twenty-third that General Franklin's corps started from Fortress Monroe, and not until the twenty-sixth that McClellan himself arrived at Alexandria. On the following day, he was ordered to take the entire direction of the forwarding of the troops from Alexandria

assist General Pope, who, two months before, had taken the consolidated commands of McDowell and Fremont, the latter retiring at his own request, and being replaced by Sigel. That portion of the army of the Potomac which arrived before McClellan, pushed off at once to reinforce Pope; but not a man that came afterwards took any part in those battles by which that General was driven back upon Washington. The dispatches by which he was urged, ordered, almost besought, to forward troops to the assistance of Pope, would fill several pages of this volume; and, when we know how promptly troops went forward before his arrival, it is impossible to find in his

1

miserable excuses for inaction anything but a disposition to embarrass Pope, and deprive him of success. It is a hard judgment, and a sad one to render; but it must be rendered, or the conclusion is inevitable that the General was either incompetent to comprehend the emergency or afraid to meet it. It is impossible to find an apology for his failure to act in this great necessity, that would not damage his reputation as a military man.

The triumphant rebels moved up the Potomac with the evident intention of crossing and invading Maryland. No time was to be lost. Under the representation that the army

of the Potomac would serve under no commander but McClellan, General Pope was relieved, and the former placed in command of all the troops. On the fourth of September, he commenced moving into Maryland for the purpose of expelling the rebel forces. Washington was in a panic, and the whole country was in a condition of the most feverish excitement. Still he called for reinforcements. He wanted to uncover Washington again, and said that, “even if Washington should be taken," it “would not bear comparison with the ruin and disaster that would follow a single defeat of this army.” When that same army was fighting under Pope, it did not, apparently, impress him in that way at all.

The battle of South Mountain was fought on the fourteenth, and, on the seventeenth, the battle of Antietam. The rebels were whipped, and recrossed the Potomac, broken and disheartened. General McClellan did not pursue, owing to the condition of his army, one whole corps of which (Fitz John Porter's) had not been in the action at all; and, as if the habit of calling for reinforcements had become chronic, renewed his application for more troops. There he remained, with no effort to follow up his victory. The President was impatient, but, to be sure that he did no injustice to the General, he visited the army in person, to ascertain what its real condition

The result was an order, issued on the sixth, for the army to move across the Potomac, and give battle to the enemy, or drive him south. The President promised him thirty

was.

thousand new men, if he would move across the river between the enemy and Washington. If he would prefer to move up he Shenandoah valley, he could only spare him fifteeen thousand. Then General McClellan began to make inquiries, and call for shoes and other supplies; but he did not begin to more. A few days afterward, the rebel General Stuart made a raid into Pennsylvania, with a large cavalry force, keeping General McClellan busy, and calling forth from him the confident statement that the daring raiders would be bagged; but they went completely around the army, and escaped in safety. A note written to the General by Mr. Lincoln, on the thirteenth, so well illustrates the situation at the moment, and, at the same time, betrays so fully his knowledge of affairs and the intelligence of his military criticisms, that it must be given entire:

[ocr errors]

"My Dear Sir-You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?

“ As I understand, you telegraphed General Halleck that you can not subsist your army at Winchester, unless the railroad from Harper's Ferry to that point be put in working order. But the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester, at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do, without the railroad last named. lle now wagons from Culpepper Court-House, wbich is just about twice as far as you would have to do from Harper's Ferry. He is certainly not more than half as well provided with wagons as you are. I certainly should be pleased for you to have the advantage of the railroad from Harper's Ferry to Winchester; but it wastes all the remainder of autumn to give it to you, and, in fact, ignores the question of time, which can not and must not be ignored.

" Again, one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is, “to operate upon the enemy's communications as much as possible without exposing your own." You seem to act as if this applies against you, but can not apply in your favor. Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twenty-four hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania. But, if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow and ruin him; if he does so with less than full force, fall upon and beat what is left behind all the easier.

66

[ocr errors]

6

a

“ Exclusive of the water line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is by the route that you can and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march? His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his.

“You know I desired, but did not order you, to cross the Potomac below, instead of above, the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was, that this would at once menace the enemy's communications, which I would seize if he would permit. If he should move northward, I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move toward Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say “try;' if we never try, we shall never succeed. If he make a stand at Winchester, moving neither north nor south, I would fight him there, on the idea that, if we cannot beat him when he bears the wastage of coming to us, we never can when we bear the wastage of going to him. This proposition is a simple truth, and is too important to be lost sight of for a moment. In coming to us, he tenders us an advantage which we should not waive. We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere, or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us than far away. If we cannot beat the enemy where he now is, we never can, he again being within the intrenchments of Richmond. Recurring to the idea of going to Richmond on the inside track, the facility of supplying from the side away from the enemy is remarkable; as it were, by the different spokes of a wheel, extending from the hub toward the rim;—and this whether you move directly by the chord, or on the inside arc, hugging the Blue Ridge more closely. The chord-line, as you see, carries you by Aldie, Haymarket, and Fredericksburg, and you see how turnpikes, railroads, and finally the Potomac by Acquia Creek, meet you at all points from Washington. The same, only the lines lengthened a little, if you press closer to the Blue Ridge part of the way. The gaps through the Blue Ridge I understand to be about the following distances from Harper's Ferry, to wit: Vestal's, five miles; Gregory's, thirteen; Snicker's, eighteen; Ashby's, twenty-eight; Manassas, thirty-eight; Chester, forty-five ; and Thornton's, fifty-three. I should think it preferable to take the route nearest the enemy, disabling him to make an important move without your knowledge, and compelling him to keep his forces together for dread of you. The gaps would enable you to attack if you should wish. For a great part of the way you would be practically between the enemy and both Washington and Richmond, enabling us to spare you the greatest number of troops from here. When, at length, running to Richmond ahead of him enables him to move this way, if he

does so, turn and attack him in the rear. But I think he should be engaged long before such point is reached. It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy, and it is unmanly to say they cannot do it. This letter is in no sense an order."

Still the government urged the General forward, and still he had excuses for not going forward. His horses were fatigued, and had the sore tongue, he said; and the President could not forbear asking him what his horses had done since Antietam that would fatigue anything. The General did not like what the President said about his cavalry, and called out another note from Mr. Lincoln, who, under date of October twenty-sixth, wrote him that if he had done any injustice he deeply regretted it. He added: “To be told, after five weeks' total inactivity of the army, and during which period we had sent to that army every fresh horse we possibly could, amounting in the whole to 7,918, that the cavalry horses were too much fatigued to move, presented a very cheerless, almost hopeless prospect for the future.” On the fifth of November, the army had crossed—just a month after the order to cross was given ;-—and, of course, the rebels had made all the needful preparations, either for battle or retreat.

But patience at Washington, triod long, and terribly tried, had become exhausted; and, on the same day on which the General annoụnced the army all across the Potomac, an order arrived relieving him of his command.

Military men will judge this remarkable campaign in the light of their own science; but the civilian will read its history by the light of its results, and by the light of those later magnificent operations of Thomas in Tennessee,—of Sheridan in the Shenandoah valley and near Richmond, of Sherman's march from Chattanooga through the heart of the rebellion and up the Atlantic coast, with cities falling before and on either side of him as if swept by a tornado,—and of Grant before Vicksburg, or in the Wilderness and at Richmond, capturing whole armies, and finishing up a war so weakly begun. In the light of these operations, the campaign of McClellan looks like the work of a boy or the play of a man.

« PreviousContinue »