« PreviousContinue »
manding General, reviewed the Army of the Potomac. For an entire month, scarcely so much as a reconnoissance in force occurred to break the monotony of life in that unhealthy locality. On the 30th, Gen. Halleck suggested that the enemy at Richmond be pressed, to ascertain the strength of his force there. Finally, on the 4th of August, one day after being ordered to prepare for a prompt withdrawal to Acquia Creek, the divisions of Hooker and Sedgwick, by order of Gen. McClellan, advanced and turned Malvern Hill, causing the Rebel force which had occupied that position to retreat toward Richmond. Col. Averill, on the evening of the 5th, returned from a cavalry reconnoissance in the direction of Savage's Station, and McClellan announced: "Our troops have advanced twelve miles in one direction, and seventeen in another, toward Richmond to-day.” Meanwhile, he had commenced sending off his sick and disabled soldiers, as directed by Gen. Halleck, on the 30th of July—the order being repeated, with emphasis, on the 2d of August. On the 6th, he was ordered to send, “immediately," a regiment of cavalry and several batteries of artillery to Burnside's command at Acquia Creek. Instead of promptly complying with this order, Gen. McClellan returned a dispatch offering reasons for non-compliance, and promising to "obey the order as soon as circumstances per. mit." It was partly complied with a day or two later.
From the 3d of August, when he was directed to take “immediate measures" for withdrawing his army from the Peninsula, Gen. McClellan earnestly resisted this order, until, on the Oth, he was definitively informed: “The order will not be rescinded, and you will be expected to execute it with all possible promptness." Gen. Halleck, who had not determined op this course, until he had visited Gen. McClellan in camp, respectfully considered the views presented against it, and wrote him at length, assigning the following, among other reasons, for the policy adopted :
You and your officers at our interview estimated the enemy's forces in and around Richmond at 200,000 men. Since then, you and others report that they have received, and are receive ing, large re-enforcements from the South. Gen. Pope's army,
covering Washington, is only about 40,000. Your effective force is only about 90,000. You are thirty miles from Richmond, and Gen. Pope, eighty or ninety, with the enemy directly between you, ready to fall with his superior numbers upon one other, as he may elect; neither can re-enforce the other in case of such an attack.
If Gen. Pope's army be diminished to re-enforce you, Washington, Maryland and Pennsylvania would be left uncovered and exposed. If your force be reduced to strengthen Pope, you would be too weak to even hold the position you now occupy, should the enemy turn round and attack you in full force. In other words, the old Army of the Potomac is split into two parts, with the entire force of the enemy directly between them. They can not be united by land without exposing both to destruction, and yet they must be united. To send Pope's forces by water to the Peninsula is, under present circumstances, a military impossibility. The only alternative is to send the forces on the Peninsula to some point by water, say Fredericksburg, where the two armies can be united. * *
But you will reply, why not re-enforce me here, so that I can strike Richmond from my present position? To do this, you said, at our interview, that you required 30,000 additional troops. I told you that it was impossible to give you so many. You finally thought you would have some chance of success with 20,000. But you afterward telegraphed me that you would require 35,000, as the enemy was being largely reenforced.
If your estimate of the enemy's strengti was correct, your requisition was perfectly reasonable ; but it was utterly impossible to fill it until new troops could be enlisted and organized, which would require several weeks.
To keep your army in its present position until it could be so re-enforced, would almost destroy it in that climate.
The months of August and September are almost fatal to whites who live on that part of James river; and even after you received the re-enforcements asked for, you admitted that you must reduce Fort Darling and the river batteries before you could advance on Richmond.
It is by no means certain that the reduction of these fortifications would not require considerable time—perhaps as much as those at Yorktown.
This delay might not only be fatal to the health of your army, but in the mean time Gen. Pope's forces would be exposed to the heavy blows of the enemy without the slightest hope of assistance from you.
In regard to the demoralizing effect of a withdrawal from
the Peninsula to the Rappahannock, I must remark that a large number of your highest officers, indeed a majority of those whose opinions have been reported to me, are decidedly in favor of the movement. Even several of those who originally advocated the line of the Peninsula, now advise its abandonment.
This final decision was telegraphed to McClellan on the 6th. Pope's situation on the Rapidan, as already seen, was becoming critical, and yet, on the 9th, Gen. Halleck found occasion to telegraph as follows:
WASHINGTON, August 9, 1862, 12.45 P. M. I am of the opinion that the enemy is massing his forces is front of Gens. Pope and Burnside, and that he expects to crush them and move forward to the Potomac.
You must send re-enforcements instantly to Acquia Creek.
Considering the amount of transportation at your disposal, your delay is not satisfactory. You must move with all possible celerity.
H. W. HALLECK,
Major-General. Maj.-Gen. G. B. MCCLELLAN.
He received in reply: “There has been no unnecessary delay, as you assert_not an hour's—but every thing has been and is being pushed as rapidly as possiblo to carry out your orders.” On the 10th, a full week after the original order, Gen. Halleck again telegraphed: “The enemy is crossing the Rapidan in large force. They are fighting Gen. Pope to-day. There must be no further delay in your movements. That which has already occurred was entirely uncxpected, and must be satisfactorily explained.” The chief excuse for this delay was the want of sufficient transportation. He had not yet disposed of even the sick—a work required to be at once proceeded with, as early as the 30th of July. But even this imperfect explanation is set aside by Gen. Halleck in the following reply, (August 12th): "The Quartermaster General informs me that nearly every available steam vessel in the country is now under your control. . . . . Burnside moved nearly 13,000 troops to Acquia Creck in less than two days, and his transports were immediately sent back to you. All the vessels in the James river and the Chesapeake Bay were placed at your disposal
and it was supposed that cight or ten thousand of your mon could be transported daily. .... There has been, and is, the most urgent necessity for dispatch, and not a single moment must be lost in getting additional troops in front of Washington." Gen. McClellan again asseverates, in reply, that he is doing all he can, and actually says, (August 12th), nine days after the order to move: “If Washington is in danger now, this army can scarcely arrive in time to save it; it is in much better position to do so from here than from Acquia.”
Two or three days later, in a dispatch dated August 14, 11 P. M., McClellan at length announced : “Movement has commenced by land and water. All sick will be away to-morrow night” — the "movement” referred to being, as he states in his final report, that “of the main army.” At noon on the 15th, we find him saying: “Two of my army corps marched last night and this morning en route for Yorktown — one via Jones' Bridge, and the other via Barrett's Ferry, where we have a pontoon bridge. The other corps will be pushed forward as fast as the roads are clear; and I hope before to-morrow morning to have the entire army in motion.” In a word, under the most urgent orders to hasten to Washington, at a time of impuinent danger, nearly two weeks expire before the march is commenced. The remainder of the movement was executed in accordance with this beginning.
On the 21st, eighteen days after the order to move was given, Gen. Halleck sends the following to McClellan, then at Fortress Monroe: “The forces of Burnside and Pope are hard pushed, and require aid as rapidly as you can send it. Come yourself as soon as you can. By all means, see that the troops sent have plenty of ammunition. We have no time here to supply them. Moreover, they may have to fight as soon as they land.” McClellan replied: “ I have ample supplies of ammunition for infantry and artillery, and will have it up in time. I can supply any deficiency that may exist in Gen. Pope's army." Leaving the corps of Gen. Keyes to occupy Yorktown, and Sumner's corps waiting for transportation, the remainder of the troops having at length embarked, McClellan sailed from Fortress Monroe for Acquia Creek on the evening of August 23, and reported from that place on the morning of the 24th. On the 27th, he reached Alexandria.
Gen. Pope, having promptly executed his retrograde movement, had his men in a strong position on the Rappahannock line, with the following dispositions on the 20th August: The right, under Sigel, was posted three miles above Rappahannock Station, on the left bank of the river, and connecting closely with McDowell in the center, near that point, and the left keeping open the connection with Fredericksburg, whence reën. forcements from the Army of the Potomac were partly to come. Repeated calls were made from Washington for additional forces to cover his right, which could not be further extended without exposing this necessary connection on the left, and which was strongly threatened by the enemy. Ample time had passed, since the order of August 3, for the arrival of the requisite force for this purpose from the Peninsula, but the tardy movement of McClellan had rendered this rcënforcement, reasonably expected, as yet impossible. The enemy, now in strong force, confronted Pope from Kelly's Ford, to a point beyond his extreme right. On the 21st and 22d, attempts were made by the Rebels to cross the river at several points, but in every instance they were repulsed. Pope was urged to make every exertion to hold out for two days longer, when it was believed his line would be adequately strengthened. But up to the 25th, the only forces that had arrived in his vicinity, except the detachment under Reno, from Burnside's corps, were 2,500 of the Pennsylvania Reserves, under Gen. Reynolds; which reached Kelly's Ford, and Kearney's division, 4,500 strong, at Warrenton Junction. The evident movements of the enemy to turn his right, caused the Commanding General much uneasiness, but the necessity of maintaining his communication on the left was still imperative. Sigel was instructed to stand firm, allowing the enemy to cross at Sulphur Springs, and move toward Warrenton, when Pope determined to mass his force to the right for the purpose of falling upon the enemy's advance. All of the cavalry, under Buford and Bayard, were pushed to the right of Sigel, toward Fayetteville and Sulphur Springs, to picket the river and to watch the enemy's movements. On the