« PreviousContinue »
until the 28th of September, on which day a foraging party went out eight miles on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, without encountering any enemy, or finding any definite trace of his previous presence in that direction. The prompt occupation of Munson's Hill, after its evacuation, by a force which McClellan, with his staff, had accompanied in person, electrified the people with the hope of some decisive action, on the part of the new commander. He shortly returned to Washington, however, and nearly another month passed before there were again visible symptoms of vitality-beyond that of military reviews and rhetorical army orders, or occasional reconnoissances, magnified by admiring correspondents—in the Army of the Potomac.
The movement of Oct. 21st, resulting in the well-known affair at Ball's Bluff, was scarcely less disastrous in its effects than the failure at Bull Run on the 21st of July. Coming after such complete and thorough preparation ; following such manifold and inexcusable delays; and transpiring as the first of the weighty manifestations of McClellan's generalship, the consequence could only be mortification to the Administration, and discouragement, mingled with indignation, to the country at large. In this ill-starred fight fell Col. E. D. Baker, of Mexican War fame, the eloquent Senator from Oregon. The loss on our side was officially stated as 150 killed or drowned, 250 wounded, and 500 prisoners. The whole force engaged was given as 2,100. The rebel Gen. Evans, commanding on the other side, states his own loss in killed and wounded as 153. He estimates the Union loss at 1,300 killed, wounded and drowned, and asserts that 710 prisoners were captured, making a total of over 2,000, nearly equal to the whole number actively engaged. This exaggerated claim was not needed to show the destructive character of the engagement. In his general order on this occasion, dated Oct. 25, McClellan gave this version of the disaster:
The gallantry and discipline there displayed deserved a more fortunate result; but situated as these troops were-cut off alike from retreat and reënforcements, and attacked by an overwhelming force-five thousand against one thousand seven
hundred-it was not possible that the issue could have been successful.
The fact that Gen. McCall's division was almost simultaneously withdrawn by Gen. McClellan from a position effectually within supporting distance on the Virginia side of the river, instead of being advanced to coöperate in the movement on Leesburg, has not been satisfactorily explained. It is fair to presume, however, that there was no more culpable motive for this than a desire for the presence of McCall's troops at a grand review which was progressing near Lewinsville, while Col. Baker and his men were pushed forward into the jaws of destruction.
With the light thrown on this affair by subsequent investigations, it may well be doubted whether the President should .. not have viewed this result, after three months of wearisome and unaccountable inaction, as sufficient cause for withdrawing all further confidence from the commanding General. For the time, however, it was made to appear that the blame should rest elsewhere, and Gen. C. P. Stone, the subordinate in the field, became the scapegoat for his superior.
Despite the popular impatience, and all the circumstances favoring prompt action, nothing more was attempted by the commander of the Army of the Potomac--scarcely so much as a picket skirmish disturbed the general stagnation during those calm, dry days--for the next two months.
To Gen. Scott's generous appreciation, perhaps, more than to any other circumstance, was due the confidence extended by President Lincoln, at the outset, to Gen. McClellan, unknown as he was to almost cvery one else at Washington. His affili. ations had formerly been with another class of public men, the principal of whom were now actively engaged in rebellion. With Jefferson Davis in particular, he seems to have been a youthful favorite, as his selection for a place on the Crimean Commission attests. Gen. Scott had formed a favorable opinion of the young Lieutenant in Mexico, and had very essentially aided in securing him credit with the present Administration. Of his subsequent deportment toward Gen. Scott,
this is not the place to speak, further than to say that the veteran Lieutenant General, his immediate superior, keenly felt the disrespectful bearing of his subordinate.
Increasing physical infirmity led the Lieutenant General to desire relief from all active duties, and from apparent responsibility for acts in which he really had no share. Directly after the affair at Ball's Bluff, he made known this wish to the President. The request was one which, urged as it was, could not be refused. The following is the President's order on this subject :
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 1861. On the 1st day of November, A. D. 1861, upon his own application to the President of the United States, Brevet Lieut. Gen. Winfield Scott is ordered to be placed, and hereby is placed, upon the list of retired officers of the Army of the United States, without reduction in his current pay, subsistence or allowances.
The American people will hear with sadness and deep emotion that Gen. Scott has withdrawn from the active control of the army, while the President and the unanimous Cabinet express their own and the nation's sympathy in his personal affliction, and their profound sense of the important public services rendered by him to his country during his long and brilliant career, among which will ever be gratefully distinguished his faithful devotion to the Constitution, the Union and the flag, when assailed by a parricidal rebellion.
This order was read to Gen. Scott, at his residence, by tho President, the Cabinet being present. The veteran General replied:
PRESIDENT: This honor overwhelms me. It overpays all services I have attempted to render to my country. If I had any claims before, they are all obliterated by this expression of approval by the President, with the unanimous support of his Cabinet. I know the President and this Cabinet well-I know that the country has placed its interests, in this trying crisis, in safe keeping. Their counsels are wise. Their labors are untiring as they are loyal, and their course is the right one.
President, you must excuse me; I am unable to stand longer to give utterance to the feelings of gratitude which oppress me. In my retirement I shall offer up my prayer to God for this
Administration, and for my country. I shall pray for it with confidence in its success over its enemies, and that speedily.
On Gen. McClellan, who now held the highest rank in the army, the Presideat temporarily devolved the duties of General-in-chief, and that position was assumed in a general order, issued on the day of the Lieutenant General's retirement.
On the 7th of November, an expedition, under the joint command of Com. Dupont and Gen. T. W. Sherman, effected a landing on the South Carolina coast, having achieved a brilliant victory in Port Royal Harbor. In thus approaching a portion of the South densely populated with slaves, it became necessary to define more clearly the policy to be acted upon by our military officers. In doing so, former orders to General Butler, on first entering Virginia, in May, were repeated. The following is the official order to Gen. Sherman:
WAR DEPARTMENT, Oct. 14, 1861. Sir: In conducting military operations within States declared by the proclamation of the President to be in a state of insurrection, you will govern yourself, so far as persons held to service under the laws of such States are concer
cerned, by the principles of the letters addressed by me to Maj. Gen. Butler, on the 30th of May and the 8th of August, copies of which are herewith furnished to you. As special directions, adapted to special circumstances, can not be given, much must be referred to your own discretion, as Commanding General of the expedition. You will, however, in general, avail yourself of the services of any persons, whether fugitives from labor or not, who may offer them to the National Government; you will employ such persons in such services as they may be fitted for, either as ordinary employees, or, if special circumstances seem to require it, in any other capacity, with such organization in squads, companies, or otherwise, as you deem most beneficial to the service. This, however, not to mean a general arming of them for military service. You will assure all loyal masters that Congress will provide just compensation to them for the loss of the services of the persons so employed. It is believed that the course thus indicated will best secure the substantial rights of loyal masters, and the benefits to the United States of the services of all disposed to support
. the Government, while it avoids
all interference with the social systems or local institutions of every State, beyond that which insurrection makes unavoidable, and which a restoration of peaceful relations to the Union, under the Constitution, will immediately remove.
Secretary of War. BRIG. GEN. T. W. SHERMAN,
Commanding Expedition to the Southern Coast.
Gen. Butler having, in his letter of May 27th, apprised the War Department as to his views and action in regard to fugi. tive slaves coming within his lines—such "property” being, in his opinion, contraband of war—the Secretary of War had replied:
WASHINGTON, May 30, 1861. Sir: Your action in respect to the negroes who came within your lines, from the service of the Rebels, is approved. The Department is sensible of the embarrassments, which must surround officers conducting military operations in a State, by the laws of which slavery is sanctioned. The Government can not recognize the rejection by any State of its Federal obligation, resting upon itself, among these Federal obligations. However, no one can be more important than that of suppressing and dispersing any combination of the former for the purpose of overthrowing its whole constitutional authority. While, therefore, you will permit no interference, by persons under your command, with the relations of persons held to service under the laws of any State, you will, on the other hand, so long as any State within which your military operations are conducted, remain under the control of such armed combinations, refrain from surrendering to alleged masters any persons who come within your lines. You will employ such persons in the services to which they will be best adapted, keeping an account of the labor by them performed, of the value of it, and the expenses of their maintenance. The question of their final disposition will be reserved for future determination.
The other letter to Gen. Butler, referred to above, is in the following terms:
WASHINGTON, August 8, 1861. GENERAL: The important question of the proper disposition to be made of fugitives from service in the States in insur