« PreviousContinue »
"General Abercrombie occupies Warrenton with a force which, including Colonel Geary at White Plains, and the cavalry to be at his disposal, will amount to some 7,780 men, with 12 pieces of artillery.
"I have the honor to request that all the troops organized for service in Pennsylvania and in New York, and in many of the eastern States, may be ordered to Washington. I learn from Governor Curtin that there are some 3,500 men now ready in Pennsylvania. This force I should be glad to have sent at once to Manassas. Four thousand men from General Wadsworth I desire to be ordered to Manassas. These troops, with the railroad guards above alluded to, will make up a force, under General Abercrombie, to something like 18,639.
"It is my design to push General Blenker's division from Warrenton upon Strasburg. He should remain at Strasburg, too, to allow matters to assume a definite form in that region before proceeding to his ultimate destination.
"The troops in the valley of the Shenandoah will thus be, including Blenker's division, 10,028 strong, with 24 pieces of artillery. Banks's fifth corps, which embraces General Shields's, 19,687 strong, with 41 guns; some 3,652 disposable cavalry, and the railroad guards, about 2,100 men, amount to about 35,157 men. "It is designed to relieve General Hooker by some regiment-say 850 men, leaving, with 500 cavalry, 1,350 men on the lower Potomac.
"There will thus be left for the garrisons and the front of Washington, under General Wadsworth, 18,000 men, exclusive of the batteries under instruction. "The troops organizing, or ready for service in New York, I learn will probably number more than 4,000. These should be assembled at Washington, subject to disposition where most needed.
"I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
This statement, to use the expression of one of the witnesses, was very indefinite." General Wadsworth, who had been ordered to take charge of the defences of Washington, upon learning the dispositions of troops proposed by General McClellan, and feeling the great importance of the trust committed to his charge, and the total inadequacy of the means provided him for that pose, addressed to the Secretary of War the following communication:
"HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON,
"SIR: I have the honor to submit the following condensed statements of the forces left under my command for the defences of Washington:
"I have no mounted light artillery under my command. "Several companies of the reserve artillery of the army of the Potomac are still here, but not under my command or fit for service.
"From this force I am ordered by General McClellan to detail two regiments (good ones) to join Richardson's division (Sumner's corps) as it passes through Alexandria; one regiment to replace the 37th New York volunteers in Heintzelman's old division; one regiment to relieve a regiment of Hooker's division at Budd's ferry-total, 4 regiments.
"I am further ordered this morning by telegraph to send 4,000 men to relieve General Sumner at Manassas and Warrenton, that he may embark forthwith. "In regard to the character and efficiency of the troops under my command, I have to state that nearly all the force is new and imperfectly disciplined; that several of the regiments are in a very disorganized condition from various causes, which it is not necessary to state here; several regiments having been relieved from brigades, which have gone into the field, in consequence of their unfitness for service the best regiments remaining having been selected to take their place.
"Two heavy artillery regiments, and one infantry regiment, which had been drilled for some months in artillery service, have been withdrawn from the forts on the south side of the Potomac, and I have only been able to fill their places with very new infantry regiments, entirely unacquainted with the duties of that arm, and of little or no value in their present position.
"I am not informed as to the position which Major General Banks is directed to take; but at this time he is, as I understand, on the other side of the Bull Run mountains, leaving my command to cover the front, from the Manassas gap (about 20 miles beyond Manassas) to Acquia creek.
"I deem it my duty to state that, looking at the numerical strength and character of the force under my command, it is in my judgment entirely inadequate to, and unfit for, the important duty to which it is assigned. I regard it very improbable that the enemy will assail us at this point, but this belief is based upon the hope that they may be promptly engaged elsewhere, and may not learn the number and the character of the force left here. "I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
"Hon. SECRETARY OF WAR."
"JAS. S. WADSWORTH, "Brigadier General and Military Governor.
Those communications were brought to the consideration of the President by the Secretary of War. The subject was at once referred to the adjutant general of the army and Major General E. A. Hitchcock, with instructions to report at once whether the orders of the President had been complied with. Their report is as follows:
"WASHINGTON, D. C., April 2, 1862-7.40 o'clock. "In compliance with your instructions I have examined the papers submitted to me, and have the honor to make the following report:
“First. The President's war order, No. 3, dated March 8, requires that on
taking up any new base of operations the city of Washington shall be left entirely secure. The other points of the order it is unnecessary to consider, as the enemy, since its date, have abandoned their positions and batteries on the Potomac, and retired behind the Rappahannock.
'Second. The council of general officers held at Fairfax Court-House, March 13, took place after the enemy had retired from Manassas and destroyed the railroad in their rear. The council decided unanimously to take up a new base of operations from Fort Monroe, and three of the generals-a majority-decided that the force necessary to be left should be sufficient to fully garrison the forts on the right bank of the Potomac, and "to occupy" those on the left bank, with a covering force of 25,000. It is, we think, the judgment of officers, that some 30,000 men would be necessary thus to man these forts, which, with the number of the covering force, would make a total of 55,000.
"Third. The President's directions of March 13th to General McClellan direct, first, to leave such a force at Manassas Junction as shall make it entirely certain that the enemy may not repossess it; second, that Washington shall be left entirely secure; third, that the remainder of the army move down the Potomac, or move in pursuit of the enemy. In regard to occupying Manassas Junction, as the enemy have destroyed the railroads leading to it, it may be fair to assume that they have no intention of returning for the reoccupation of their late position, and therefore no very large force would be necessary to hold that position. Fourth. Major General McClellan's report to the adjutant general of April 1, after giving the several positions of the troops proposed to be left for the defence of Washington, gives a representation as follows: At Warrenton there is to be 7,780; at Manassas, say, 10,859; in the valley of the Shenandoah, 35,467; on the lower Potomac, 1,350. Total in all, 55,456. And there would be left for the garrisons and the front of Washington, under General Wadsworth, some 18,000. In the above enumeration General Banks's army corps is included; but whether this corps, operating in the Shenandoah valley, should be regarded as a part of the force available for the protection of the immediate front of Washington, the undersigned express no opinion.
"Fifth. General Wadsworth's report of April 2d gives his force as follows: infantry, 15,335; artillery, 4,494; cavalry, 858-six companies only being mounted. Total, 20,477.
"Deduct sick, in arrest and confinement, 1,455. Total for duty, 19,022.
"From this force General Wadsworth is directed to detach two good regiments to Richardson's division, Sumner's corps, which should be deducted from his command, one regiment to replace the 37th New York, in Heintzelman's old division, and one to relieve a regiment of Hooker's division at Budd's ferry— total, four regiments.
"It is also ordered to send 4,000 men to relieve Sumner at Manassas and Warrenton. General Wadsworth represents that he has no mounted light artillery under his command; states that there were several companies of reserve artillery still here, but not under his command, or fit for service.
"General Wadsworth further reports that nearly all the force is new and imperfectly disciplined; that several of the regiments are in a very disorganized condition, some of them having been relieved from brigades which have gone into the field, in consequence of their unfitness for service, the best regiments remaining having been selected to take their place; two heavy artillery regiments and one infantry regiment, which had been drilled for months in artillery service, having been withdrawn from the forts on the south side of the Potomac, and their places supplied with new infantry regiments, entirely unacquainted with the duties of that arm, and of little or no value in their present position. If there was need of a military force for the safety of the city of Washington within its own limits, that referred to in the report of General Wadsworth would seem to be entirely inadequate.
"In view of the opinion expressed by the council of the commanders of army corps of the force necessary for the defence of the capital, though not numerically stated, and of the force represented by General McClellan as left for that purpose, we are of the opinion that the requirements of the President, that the city shall be left "entirely secure," not only in the opinion of the general-inchief, but that of the "commanders of the army corps" also, has not been fully complied with.
"All of which is respectfully submitted.
The day after this report was written, the President directed the Secretary of War to order one corps of the army of the Potomac to remain in front of Washington until further orders. The corps of General McDowell, being the only corps remaining intact here, was selected to remain, without the knowledge of General McDowell, he being engaged, at the time of receiving this order, in making preparations to immediately follow the rest of the army to the peninsula.
General Heintzelman, who commanded the first troops of the army of the Potomac that landed on the peninsula, arrived at Fortress Monroe on the 23d of March, two weeks after the evacuation of Manassas. He had orders to encamp as near Fortress Monroe as possible, in order that the enemy should have no idea of the direction in which the army was to move, whether towards Yorktown or Norfolk. General Heintzelman states that shortly after landing he obtained information that the enemy had not more than 10,000 troops at Yorktown and on the peninsula, and is satisfied that he could have advanced and isolated Yorktown, in which case there would have been no serious obstacle in the way of proceeding directly to Richmond. On the 27th of March he sent out reconnoitering parties as far as Big Bethel and Watt's creek, and went near the Half-way House, where about 400 of the enemy and a little artillery were seen. He telegraphed to General McClellan what he was doing, and received a despatch, in reply, that he (General McClellan) hoped that nothing had been done to give the enemy information of the line of operations of the army. The reconnoissance was then withdrawn.
Troops continued to arrive at Fortress Monroe, and on the 2d of April General McClellan himself arrived. On the 4th of April the army commenced its movement in the direction of Yorktown, and on the 5th appeared before the enemy's lines. General McClellan states that he moved from Fortress Monroe sooner than he otherwise would have done, upon hearing that the enemy were sending down re-enforcements.
All the testimony goes to prove that when our troops first landed on the peninsula the force of the enemy there consisted of Magruder's command, variously estimated at from 7,000 to 12,000 men, except by General McClellan, who estimates it from 15,000 to 20,000. The Hon. Lemuel J. Bowden, United States senator from Virginia-then living within the rebel lines, near Williamsburg-testifies that the rebels did not determine to re-enforce Magruder until it was apparent that our forces intended to stop before Yorktown and commence a regular siege of the place. It is now evident, whatever may have been the opinion of our officers at the time, that our forces, when they first appeared before Yorktown, could have pierced the line of works across the peninsula there without much difficulty, isolating Yorktown, and cutting off re-enforcements, when the place must have fallen in a very short time. Some of our generals expected and desired that that should be done. General Heintzelman Rep. Com. 108-2
forwarded to General McClellan the application of General Hamilton, commanding a division, for permission to force the enemy's lines. No answer was received to the application.
Instead of that, however, a siege was determined upon, contrary to the desire of the President, who, as early as the 9th of April, wrote to General McClellan as follows:
"There is a curious mystery about the number of troops now with you. I telegraphed you on the 6th, saping that you had over 100,000 with you. I had just obtained from the Secretary of War a statement, taken, as he said, from your own returns, making 108,000 then with you and en route to you. You now say that you will have not 85,000, when all en route to you shall have reached you. How can this discrepancy of 25,000 be accounted for? As to General Wool's command, I understand it is doing for you precisely what a like number of your own would have to do if that command was away.
"I suppose the whole force which has gone forward to you is with you by this time, and if so, I think it is the precise time for you to strike a blow. By delay the enemy will steadily gain on you-that is, he will gain faster by fortifications and re-enforcements than you can by re-enforcements alone.
"And, once more, let me tell you it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this. You will do me the justice to remember I always wished not going down the bay in search of a field, instead of fighting at or near Manassas, as only shifting and not surmounting a difficulty; that we should find the same enemy and the same or equal entrenchments at either place. The country will not fail to note-is noting now-that the present hesitation to move upon an entrenched position is but the story of Manassas repeated."
And the repetition was made complete nearly a month later, when the enemy, in the face of a superior force, evacuated their works without loss, and without the knowledge of the general commanding our army.
General McClellan, however, did not deem his forces sufficient, and objected very strongly to the order of the President detaching McDowell's corps for the defence of Washington, as "imperilling the success of our cause." He called again and again for re-enforcements, asking for Franklin's and McCall's divisions of McDowell's corps, to be under command of Franklin; insisting that Franklin's division, at least, should be sent to him. On the 11th of April Franklin's division was ordered to Alexandria to embark for Fort Monroe. the 14th General Franklin reported to General McClellan near Yorktown, but his troops remained on board the transports until after the enemy evacuted the place, when they were ordered to West Point.
On the 6th of April General McClellan telegraphed to the President—“ I have by no means the transportation I must have to move my army even a few miles;" and asks that all his orders for wagon-trains, &c., may at once be complied with. All was sent to him as desired, until even General McDowell found himself so stripped of the transportation designed for his corps, that when he moved to Fredericksburg it was with the greatest difficulty he could move supplies for his small force from Aquia to Falmouth, until the railroad was completed.
A month was spent before Yorktown, our army, in the opinion of some of our ablest officers, becoming more demoralized by the labors of a long siege than it would have been even by an unsuccessful assault.
The returns in the Adjutant General's office, signed by General McClellan and his adjutant general, show that, on the 30th of April, 1862, the forces on the peninsula under General McClellan amounted to 112,392 present for duty. On the 1st of May the President telegraphs to General McClellan—“ Your call for Parrott guns from Washington alarms me, chiefly because it argues indefinite procrastination. Is anything to be done?"