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5th. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine? Yours, truly,
A. LINCOLN. MAJ.-Gen. MCCLELLAN.
These plain test questions were never directly met. In a long letter of the same date, however, addressed to the Secretary of War, arguing the merits of the two plans, Gen. McClellan avers that he “substantially answered” the President's inquiries. The subject remained for some time under consideration, the President's order not withdrawn, but its execution suspended, while McClellan at length proceeded to the work of opening the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, under urgent pressure from his superiors.
On the 26th of February, he announced, from Sandy Hook, that Loudon and Bolivar Heights, and also Maryland Heights, had been occupied by our troops, and that G. W. Smith was expected at Winchester with 15,000 Rebels. After incurring much cost and delay in the construction of canal boats to be used in crossing the Upper Potomac, he now found, on proceeding to use them, a considerable force intended for Winchester being already under orders, that, as he expressed it in a dispatch to the Secretary of War, Feb. 27th, " the lift-lock" was " too small” to permit the boats to pass up to their destination. Mr. Stanton sent this laconic reply, under the same date: “Gen. McClellan If the lift-lock is not big enough, why can not it be made big enough? Please answer immediately." The response was, that, to do this, the entire masonry must be destroyed and rebuilt. Consequently, the boats, long patiently waited for, were summarily dispensed with, and the marching orders countermanded. At the same time, for reasons satisfactory to himself, McClellan revoked an order he had given to Hooker, for a movement toward silencing the Rebel batteries on the Potomac, which had also been earnestly pressed by the Administration. His plan at Harper's Ferry, as stated Feb. 28, was chiefly “to occupy Charlestown and Bunker Hill, so as to cover the rebuilding of the railway," making the following objections to the desired advance upon
Winchester and thorough occupation of the Shenandoah Valley: “We could not supply and move to Winchester for many days, and had I moved more troops here, they would have been at a loss for food on the Virginia side.” McClellan soon after returned to Washington, and began the movement on Manassas, as required by the President's order of January 31st-a full month having now intervened.
Events in the Valley, for some time to come, may here be briefly summed up. Charlestown was occupied in force by Gen. Banks on the 28th of February, and Martinsburg on the 3d of March. Col. Geary occupied Leesburg on the 2d. Stonewall Jackson evacuated Winchester on the 11th, and was pursued by Gen. Shields (who had succeeded the lamented Gen. Lander,) until overtaken near New Market on the 19th, within supporting distance of the Rebel force under Joe Johnston, (who had taken full command, in that quarter, when Beauregard left for the West, the last of January.) Shields retreated rapidly to Winchester, on the 20th. On the 22d, by order of Gen. McClellan, the forces of Gen. Banks, now constituting the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, were nearly all, with the exception of Shields' division, withdrawn to the vicinity of Manassas. On the same evening, the Rebels, ander Jackson and Longstreet, supposed to be 10,000 strong, attacked the place, and were gallantly repulsed by Shields, whose division numbered less than 8,000. After this battle, Gen. Banks, having returned to the Valley, followed up the retreating enemy, successively occupying Strasburg, Woodstock, and (on the 26th of March) Harrisonburg. The Rebel forces now retired from that region, and the Valley was comparatively quiet for nearly two months following.
On the 28th of February, McClellan returned to Washington. The results at Harper's Ferry, as well as the delay in raising the blockade of the Lower Potomac, had been far from satisfactory to the President. The day fixed for a general movement had passed, and the plan of advancing on Richmond by the Chesapeake, if acquiesced in, was manifestly impracti. cable, unless by the roundabout way of Annapolis, until the Potomac had first been cleared of the Rebel battories. Mead
while, as early as the 15th of February, measures had been taken by the Secretary of War to secure with promptness the necessary transportation by water for the forces to be moved. This fact indicates the determination of the Administration to acquiesce in a plan on which the Commanding General was ready to stake so much, rather than to insist on a movement much preferred, yet which could hardly be expected to succeed under the reluctant generalship of one who felt no confidence in its success, and who would show no alacrity in its execution.
With all that had been accomplished in the way of organization, discipline, and general preparation, the Army of the Potomac had still remained without distribution into Army Corps. The President, sustained by the best military authorities and advisers, if not by the universal practice in modern warfare, had desired such organization to be made. This Ger. McClellan had failed to attend to, and it was not until he was on the eve of a movement toward Manassas, with a manifest purpose not to perfect his organization, that President Lincoln issued the following peremptory order:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON,
March 8, 1862. President's General War Order, No. 2.]
ORDERED, I. That the Major-General commanding the Army of the Potomac proceed forthwith to organize that part of said army destined to enter upon active operations, (including the reserve, but excluding the troops to be left in the fortifications about Washington,) into four army corps, to be commanded according to seniority of rank, as follows:
First Corps, to consist of four divisions, and to be commanded by Maj. Gen. I. McDowell.
Second Corps, to consist of three divisions, and to be commanded by Brig.-Gen. E. V. Sumner.
Third Corps, to consist of three divisions, and to be commanded by Brig.-Gen. S. P. Heintzelman.
Fourth Corps, to consist of three divisions, and to be commanded by Brig-Gen. E. D. Keyes.
II. That the divisions now commanded by the officers above assigned to the command of Corps, shall be embraced in and form part of their respective Corps.
III. The forces left for the defense of Washington will be placed in command of Brig.-Gen. James S. Wadsworth, who shall also be Military Governor of the District of Columbia.
IV. That this order be executed with such promptness and dispatch, as not to delay the commencement of the operations already directed to be undertaken by the Army of the Potomac.
V. That the Fifth Army Corps, to be commaded by Maj.Gen. N. P. Banks, will be formed from his own and Gen. Shields', late Gen. Lander's, division.
To the execution of this order, the Commanding General interposed such obstacles as were in his power, without positive refusal. On the 9th of March, having taken the field, he telegraphed to Secretary Stanton from Hall's Hill, the headquarters of Fitz John Porter, that “in the arrangements for to-morrow it is impossible to carry" the order “into effect," and asks its suspension. The Secretary promptly replied: “I think it is the duty of every officer to obey the President's orders, nor can I see any reason why you should not obey them in the present instance. I must, therefore, decline to suspend them.” McClellan, still at Hall's Hill, telegraphs, on the 10th, that he “must suspend movement, or disregard order,” alleging "military necessity,” and adds: “If you desire it, I will at once countermand” marching orders. To avoid this alternative, consent was granted for a temporary delay, until the impending movement should have been executed. The same day, McClellan informed the Department that the troops were in motion. Centreville was occupied that evening without opposition, and Manassas on the 11th, the only obstacle to movement being that the “roads are horrible."
Before this movement actually commenced, the President, who had reluctantly yielded his preference for such an advance on Richmond as would at the same time cover the National Capital, and who had not been indifferent to the neglect of his wishes in regard to the opening of the Potomac, or to the delaye which experience had led him to dread, issued the subjoined general order:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON,
March 8, 1862. ORDERED, That no change of the base of operations of the Army of the Potomac shall be made without leaving in and about Washington such a force as, in the opinion of the General-in-chief and the commanders of army corps, shall leave said city entirely secure.
That no more than two army corps (about fifty thousand troops) of said Army of the Potomac shall be moved en route for a new base of operations until the navigation of the Potomac, from Washington to the Chesapeake Bay, shall be freed from the enemy's batteries, and other obstructions, or until the President shall hereafter give express permission. That
any movement as aforesaid, en route for a new base of operations, which may be ordered by the General-in-chief, and which may be intended to move upon Chesapeake Bay, shall begin to move upon the bay as early as the 18th of March, instant, and the General-in-chief shall be responsible that it moves as early as that day.
ORDERED, That the Army and Navy coöperate in an immediate effort to capture the enemy's batteries upon
the Potomac between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN. L. Thomas, Adjutant-General.
On the 9th of March, the steamer Merrimac, which had been taken possession of by the insurgents at Norfolk, after the abandonment of that post in the spring of 1861, and converted into a formidable iron-clad vessel, re-named the Virginia, attacked and destroyed the Government sailing frigates Cumberland and Congress. The Minnesota, in coming to their assistance, ran aground. For awhile, all the shipping in the harbor seemed at the mercy of the Rebel monster. But the timely arrival of Ericsson's Monitor, just completed, and hitherto regarded as a doubtful experiment, ended the work of destruction, and caused the Merrimac to retire within shelter at Norfolk. These hurried and startling events caused great sensation at the time, both in this country and abroad, and have had a marked influence in regard to naval armaments every-where.
McClellan having now taken the field, so that a supervision of all the armies of the nation was clearly out of his power,