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Although then in command only of a department, General McClellan, with an ambition and a presumption natural, perhaps, to his age and the circumstances of his advancement, addressed his attention to the general conduct of the war in all sections of the country, and favored the Government and Lieutenant-General Scott with several elaborate and meritorious letters of advice, as to the method most proper to be pursued for the suppression of the rebellion. He soon, however, found it necessary to attend to the preparation of the army under his command for an immediate resumption of hostilities. Fresh troops in great numbers speedily poured in from the Northern States, and were organized and disciplined for prompt and effective service. The number of troops in and about the capital when General McClellan assumed command, was a little over 50,000, and the brigade organization of General McDowell formed the basis for the distribution of these new forces. By the middle of October this army had been raised to over 150,000 men, with an artillery force of nearly 500 pieces—all in a state of excellent discipline, under skilful officers, and animated by a zealous and impatient eagerness to renew the contest for the preservation of the Constitution and Government of the United States. The President and Secretary of War had urged the division of the army
into corps d'armée, for the purpose of more effective service; but General McClellan had discouraged and thwarted their endeavors in this direction, mainly on the ground that there were not officers enough of tried ability in the army
to be intrusted with such high commands as this division would create.
On the 22d of October, a portion of our forces which had been ordered to cross the Potomac above Washington, in the direction of Leesburgh, were met by a heavy force of the enemy at Ball's Bluff, repulsed with severe loss, and compelled to return. The circumstances of this disaster excited a great deal of dissatisfaction in the public mind, and this was still further aggravated by the fact that the rebels had obtained, and been allowed to hold, complete control of the Potomac below Washington, so as to establish a virtual and effective blockade of the capital from that direction. Special efforts were repeatedly made by the President and the Navy Department to clear the banks of the river of the rebel forces, known to be small in number, which held them, but it was found impossible to induce General McClellan to take any steps to aid in the accomplishment of this result. In October he had promised that on a day named, 4,000 troops should be ready to proceed down the river to co-operate with the Potomac flotilla under Captain Craven; but at the time appointed the troops did not arrive, and General McClellan alleged, as a reason for having changed his mind, that his engineers had informed him that so large a body of troops could not be landed. The Secretary of the Navy replied that the landing of the troops was a matter of which that department assumed the responsibility; and it was then agreed that the troops should be sent down the next night. They were not sent, however, either then or at any other time, for which General McClellan assigned as a reason the fear that such an attempt might bring on a general engagement. Captain Craven upon this threw up his command, and the Potomac remained closed to the vessels and transports of the United States until it was opened in March of the next year by the voluntary withdrawal of the rebel forces.
On the 1st of November, General McClellan was appointed by the President to succeed General Scott in the command of all the armies of the Union, remaining in personal command of the Army of the Potomac. His attention was then of necessity turned to the direction of army movements, and to the conduct of political affairs, so far as they came under military control, in the more distant sections of the country. But no movement took place in the Army of the Potomac. The season had been unusually favorable for military operations—the troops were admirably organized and disciplined, and in the highest state of efficiency-in numbers they were known to be far superior to those of the rebels opposed to them, who were nevertheless permitted steadily to push their approaches towards Washington, while from the highest officer to the humblest private our forces were all animated with an eager desire to be led against the enemies of their country. As winter approached without any indications of an intended movement of our armies, the public impatience rose to the highest point of discontent. The Administration was everywhere held responsible for these unaccountable delays, and was freely charged by its opponents with a design to protract the war for selfish political purposes of its own : and at the fall election the public dissatisfaction made itself manifest by adverse votes in every considerable State where elections were held.
Unable longer to endure this state of things, President Lincoln put an end to it on the 27th of January, 1862, by issuing the following order :
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, January 27, 1862. Ordered, That the twenty-second day of February, 1862, be the day for a general movement of the land and naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces. That especially the army at and about Fortress Monroe, the army of the Potomac, the army of Western Virginia, the army near Munfordsville, Kentucky, the army and flotilla at Cairo, and a naval force in the Gulf of Mexico, be ready to move on that day.
That all other forces, both land and naval, with their respective commanders, obey existing orders for the time, and be ready to obey additional orders when duly given.
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.
This order, which applied to all the armies of the United States, was followed four days afterwards by the following special order directed to General McClellan :
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, January 31, 1862. Ordered, That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac, after providing safely for the defence of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad southwestward of what is known as Manassas Junction, all details to be in the discretion of the Commander-inChief, and the expedition to move before or on the twenty-second day of February next.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN. The object of this order was to engage the rebel army in front of Washington by a flank attack, and by its defeat relieve the capital, put Richmond at our mercy, and break the main strength of the rebellion by destroying the principal army arrayed in its support. Instead of obeying it, General McClellan remonstrated against its execution, and urged the adoption of a different plan of attack, which was to move upon Richmond by way of the Chesapeake Bay, the Rappahannock River, and a land march across the country from Urbana, leaving the rebel forces in position at Manassas to be held in check, if they should attempt a forward movement, only by the troops in the fortifications around Washington. As the result of several conferences with the President, he obtained permission to state in writing his objections to his plan—the President meantime sending him the following letter of inquiry:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, February 3, 1862. 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 southwest of Manassas.
If you will give satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours :
1st. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?
2d. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine? 3d. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine?
4th. 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 ?
5th. In caso of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine ?
ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Major-General MCCLELLAN.
General McClellan sent to the Secretary of War, under date of February 3d, a very long letter, presenting strongly the advantage possessed by the rebels in holding a central defensive position, from which they could with a small force resist any attack on either flank, concentrating their main strength upon the other for a decisive action. The uncertainties of the weather, the necessity of having long lines of communication, and the probable indecisiveness even of a victory, if one should be gained, were urged against the President's plan. So strongly was General McClellan in favor of his own plan of operations, that he said he “ should prefer the move from Fortress Monroe as a base, to an attack upon Manassas.” The President was by no means convinced by General McClellan's reasoning; but in consequence of his steady resistance and unwillingness to enter upon the execution of any other plan, he assented to a submission of the matter to a council of twelve officers held late in February, at head-quarters. The result of that council was, a decision in favor of moving by way of the lower Chesapeake and the Rappahannock-seven of the Generals present, viz., Fitz-John Porter, Franklin, W. F. Smith, McCall, Blenker, Andrew Porter, and Naglee, voting in favor of it, as did Keyes also, with the qualification that the army should not move until the rebels were driven from the Potomac, and Generals McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and Barnard, voting against it.
In this decision the President acquiesced, and on the 8th of March, issued two general war orders, the first directing