« PreviousContinue »
should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splen did army I have the honor to command; and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it, and share its fate. But if the result of the action which will occur to-morrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs. "Since I commenced this, I have received additional intelligence confirming the supposition in regard to Jackson's movements and Beauregard. I shall probably be attacked tomorrow, and now go to the other side of the Chickahominy to arrange for the defence on that side. I feel that there is no use in my again asking for re-enforcements.
“Hon. E. M. STANTON,
"Secretary of War."
The answer of the President is as follows:
"GEO. B. MCCLELLAN,
"WASHINGTON, June 26, 1862.
"Your three despatches of yesterday in relation to the affair, ending with the statement that you completely succeeded in making your point, are very gratifying.
"The later one of 6.15 p. m., suggesting the probability of your being overwhelmed by 200,000 men, and talking of to whom the responsibility will belong, pains me very much. I give you all I can, and act on the presumption that you will do the best you can with what you have; while you continue, ungenerously I think, to assume that I could give you more if I would. I have omitted, I shall omit, no opportunity to send you re-enforcements whenever I possibly can.
"Major General MCCLELLAN."
On the afternoon of the 26th of June, between 2 and 3 o'clock, the enemy, in considerable force, made a vigorous attack upon the troops of Gen. McCall's division, stationed at Mechanicsville, consisting of the two brigades of Seymour and Reynolds. The action lasted until nightfall, when the enemy were repulsed. Troops were sent up by Gen. Porter to the assistance of those engaged; but they were not in the battle, though some of them were in position to support the right of the line.
About 12 o'clock that night the troops were ordered to fall back to Gaines's Mill, which was accomplished without loss.
On the 27th the battle of Gaines's Mill was fought, principally by the troops under Gen. Porter. Our forces there engaged were from 27,000 to 30,000; the force of the enemy being from two to three times that number. The enemy were in such superior force that, although our troops fought with exceeding bravery, they were driven back with a loss of about 9,000 men, in killed, wounded, and missing.
General McClellan was questioned as to the policy of leaving the right wing, consisting of only about 30,000 men, to meet the attack of the superior force of the enemy, instead of withdrawing it to the right bank of the Chickahominy before the battle of Gaines's Mill. His testimony on that point is as follows: Question. Whatever might have been the intentions of the enemy, as the attack was to have been made by him, would it not have been better to have placed both wings of our army on the same side of the Chickahominy prior to the battle of Gaines's Mill?
"Answer. I do not think they ought to have been brought to the same side of the river before they actually were.
"Question. What advantage was gained by leaving the right wing of our army to be attacked by a greatly superior force?
"Answer. It prevented the enemy from getting on our flank and rear, and, in my opinion, enabled us to withdraw the army and its material.
"Question. Will you explain what was done by the right wing of our army at or about the time the left was engaged which saved our flank from attack and enabled the army and its material to be withdrawn?
"Answer. By desperate fighting they inflicted so great a loss on the enemy as to check his movement on the left bank of the river, and gave us time to get our material out of the way."
During the night after the battle of Gaines's Mill all our forces were concentrated on the right bank of the Chickahominy, and the next day the movement to the James river was determined upon. General Heintzelman testifies that the night after that battle he was sent for by General McClellan; that he found everything packed, ready to leave; that General McClellan said there were two things to be done to concentrate his forces and risk all on a battle, or to withdraw to the James river; that if he risked a battle there, and was beaten, the army was destroyed. General Heintzelman advised him not to risk a battle under such circumstances, for if that army was lost the cause would be lost; that it were better to go to the James river and await re-enforcements. General McClellan replied that he was of that opinion himself, and that was determined upon. That night, at 12.20 a. m., General McClellan telegraphs the Secretary of War that he (General McClellan) is not responsible for the result, but feels that the government has not sustained his army.
To this the President replies, on the 28th: "If you have had a drawn battle, or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy not being in Washington. We protected Washington and the enemy concentrated on you. Had we stripped Washington he would have been upon us before the troops sent could have got
"Save your army at all events. Will send re-enforcements as fast as we can. Of course they cannot reach you to day, to-morrow, or next day."
The 28th of June passed without any serious fighting. Col. B. S. Alexander testifies that on the afternoon of that day he was sent for by Gen. McClellan, and went to his headquarters, at Savage's Station, arriving there about dark. He received instructions to proceed with an escort to the James river, send back a sufficient number of men to act as guides for the different columns of the army, communicate with the gunboats, and order supplies to be brought up the river; to examine both shores of the James to the mouth of the Chickahominy, and ascertain the landing places; proceed up the Chickahominy to the head of navigation and ascertain the places where the army could cross, in case of necessity, and then return to headquarters and report. He left Savage's Station that night, and reached the James river the next afternoon. By the time he had completed his examination the army had reached the James river at Malvern.
While at headquarters, receiving his instructions, he was shown, as he testifies, a printed order, not then issued, directing the destruction of the baggage of officers and men, and the tents, camps, equipage and things of that kind; appealing to the army to submit to this privation, as it would be only temporary"only for a few days." He remonstrated with Gen. McClellan against issuing such an order; that it would have a bad effect, would demoralize the army, as it would be telling them more plainly than they could be told in any other way that they were defeated and running for their lives. The order was not issued, and Gen. McClellan testifies that he has no recollection of any such order.
The retreat to the James river having been decided upon, the army took up its march, being attacked by the enemy in the day time, and however successful in repelling those attacks, evacuating their positions during the night. The
actions of Savage's Station, Glendale and Malvern were fought during the movement of the army to the James, the enemy being repulsed in each day's fighting, and our army falling back, under orders, during the night.
It would appear, from all the information your committee can obtain, that the battles were fought, the troops handled, new dispositions made and old ones changed, entirely by the corps commanders, without directions from the commanding general. He would place the troops in the morning, then leave the field and seek the position for the next day, giving no directions until the close of the day's fighting, when the troops would be ordered to fall back during the night to the new position selected by him. In that manner the army reached the James river.
The battle of Malvern Hill, of the 1st of July, was the most fiercely contested of any upon the peninsula. The troops were placed in the morning, under direction of General McClellan, who then left the field, returning to it again in the afternoon. The first action of the day commenced about 10 o'clock in the forenoon, but did not continue long. The principal action, when the enemy attacked most vigorously and persistently, commenced late in the afternoon, and continued till after dark, the enemy being repulsed and beaten at every point. Many of the officers examined by your committee are of the opinion that the enemy were so severely punished on that day that they could have been followed into Richmond had our army followed them up vigorously. It is true that our army had been severely tried during the preceding week, fighting, as they did, nearly every day, and retreating every night. The corps. commanders and the troops under them fought most bravely-no troops better. However disheartened they may have become by what all must have regarded as a precipitate retreat during the night, they still fought with the most obstinate bravery when attacked in the day time by an exultant and successful
The commanding general, however, determined to fall back from Malvern to Harrison's Bar, notwithstanding the victory won there by our army. He seems to have regarded his army as entirely unfitted to meet the enemy, for on the day of the battle at Malvern, evidently before that battle took place, he writes to the adjutant general of the army from Haxall's plantation:
My men are completely exhausted, and I dread the result if we are attacked to-day by fresh troops. If possible, I shall retire to-night to Harrison's Bar, where the gunboats can render more aid in covering our position. Permit me to urge that not an hour should be lost in sending me fresh troops. More gunboats are much needed."
On the 2d of July the President telegraphs to General McClellan : "Your despatch of yesterday morning induces me to hope your army is hav ing some rest. In this hope allow me to reason with you for a moment. you ask for 50,000 men to be promptly sent you, you must surely labor under some gross mistake of fact. Recently you sent papers showing your disposal of forces made last spring for the defence of Washington, and advising a return to that plan. I find included in and about Washington 75,000 men. Now please be assured that I have not men enough to fill that very plan by 15,000. All of General Frémont's in the valley; all of General Banks's; all of General McDowell's not with you; and all in Washington, taken together, do not exceed, if they reach, 60,000. With General Wool and General Dix added to those mentioned, I have not outside of your army 75,000 men east of the mountains. Thus the idea of sending you 50,000, or any other considerable force, promptly, is simply absurd. If, in your frequent mention of responsibility, you had the impression that I blame you for not doing more than you can, please be relieved of such impression. I only beg that in like manner you will not ask impossibilities of me.
"If you think you are not strong enough to take Richmond just now, I do
not ask you to try just now. Save the army, material and personnel, and I will strengthen it for the offensive again as fast as I can."
On the 3d of July, after the army had reached Harrison's Bar, General McClellan writes to the Secretary of War:
"I am in hopes that the enemy is as completely worn out as we are; he was certainly very severely punished in the last battle.
* * * * *
It is, of course, impossible to estimate as yet our losses, but I doubt whether there are to-day more than 50,000 men with their colors.
"To accomplish the great task of capturing Richmond, and putting an end to this rebellion, re-enforcements should be sent to me rather much over than less than 100,000 men."
The retreat of the army from Malvern to Harrison's Bar was very precipitate. The troops upon their arrival there were huddled together in great confusion, the entire army being collected within a space of about three miles along the river. No orders were given the first day for occupying the heights which commanded the position, nor were the troops so placed so as to be able to resist an attack in force by the enemy; and nothing but a heavy rain, thereby preventing the enemy from bringing up their artillery, saved the army there from destruction. The enemy did succeed in bringing up some of their artillery, and threw some shells into the camp, before any preparations for defence had been made. On the 3d of July the heights were taken possession of by our troops and works of defence commenced, and then, and not until then, was our army secure in that position.
By reference to the testimony of Mr. Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War, it will be seen that prior to the 5th of April, 1862, 121, 500 men had been landed on the peninsula. Shortly afterwards General Franklin's division of General McDowell's corps, numbering about 12, 000 men, was sent down. In the early part of June General McCall's division, of the same corps, of about 10,000 men, was sent down, together with about 11,000 men from Baltimore and Fortress Monroe, and about the last of June some 5,000 men of General Shield's division were also sent down. Total, 159,500 men.
On the 20th of July, 1862, according to the returns sent to the Adjutant General's office by General McClellan, the army of the Potomac, under his command, was as follows: Present for duty, 101,691; special duty, sick, and in arrest, 17,828; absent, 38,795; total, 158,314. This included the corps of General Dix, amounting to 9,997 present for duty, or in all, 11.778 men.
The army remained at Harrison's Bar during the month of July and a part of August. It engaged in no active operations whatever, and was almost entirely unmolested by the enemy. The subject of the future operations of the army was a matter of much deliberation on the part of the government. General McClellan claimed that the James river was the true line of approach to Richmond, and that he should be re-enforced in order to renew the campaign against that place. The President visited the army about the 8th of July, but nothing was then decided upon.
On the 25th of July General Halleck visited the army at Harrison's Bar, accompanied by General Burnside, who had come from North Carolina, with the greater portion of his force, to Fortress Monroe. The general officers were called together, and the question of withdrawing the army was submitted to them. The council was of rather an informal character. The majority of the officers expressed themselves in favor of a withdrawal of the army. General Burnside testifies that, as he understood from the officers there, the army was not in a good condition, sickness was increasing, many of the regiments were without shelter and cooking utensils, and many of the men were without arms. The general opinion expressed by the leading officers was that the men had become very much enervated. One of the leading officers said that his command could not, in his opinion, march three miles and fight a battle. This con
dition of the troops was one of the reasons assigned for the final withdrawal of the army from the peninsula.
General McClellan applied for 50,000 re-enforcements to enable him to resume active operations. General Halleck, when he visited the army, informed General McClellan that the government could furnish him only 20,000 additional troops. General McClellan consented to renew operations with that number of re-enforcements, and General Halleck left with that understanding. But the day that he left General McClellan wrote to him, asking for 15,000 or 20,000 troops from the western army, in addition to those promised to him; urging very strongly that they should be brought here temporarily, to be returned to the west after Richmond should have been taken. As this could not be done, the order was given for the withdrawal of the army, as rapidly as possible, in order to co-operate with the forces under General Pope, then in the presence of a superior force of the enemy.
In regard to the re-enforcement of the army while at Harrison's Landing, the testimony of General McClellan is as follows:
Question. How many available men did you estimate that you had at Harrison's Bar, and how many more would you have required in order to undertake a movement successfully upon Richmond.
"Answer. I think I had about 85,000 or 90,000 men at Harrison's Bar, and would have undertaken another movement in advance with about 20,000 more re-enforcements. My view was, that pretty much everything that the government could have controlled ought to have been massed on the James river. I did not believe the enemy would trouble Washington so long as we had a powerful army in the vicinity of Richmond, and did not share the apprehensions for the safety of Washington that were entertained by a great many.
"I asked for 50,000 men at first, on the ground that I thought the army should be made as strong as possible, and as little as possible left to chance. When General Halleck came down to Harrison's Bar, my recollection is that he said that 20,000 men, or something about that number, was all that could be had, and I said that I would try it again with that number. I have no recollection of having asked at a subsequent period for a greater number than 20,000 as a necessary preliminary to a movement.
Question. About how many men had been lost from the 25th of June until you reached Harrison's Bar, in killed, wounded, and missing?
"Answer. I think the loss was about 14,000; but I could not tell positively without looking at the returns.
"Question. Will you state in what you think your chances for success would have been greater, with the addition of 20,000 men to the number which you had at Harrison's Landing, than they were in front of Richmond, and before Jackson had formed a junction with the rest of the enemy's forces?
"Answer. I should have counted upon the effect of the battles, which had just taken place, upon the enemy. We had then strong reasons to believe that the enemy's losses had been very much heavier than our own, and that portions of his army were very much demoralized, especially after the battle of Malvern
In closing their report upon the campaign of the peninsula, your committee would refer to the report of Gen. John G. Barnard, chief of engineers of the army of the Potomac during that campaign, made to Gen. McClellan. The conclusion of his report, which he terms "a retrospect pointing out the mistakes that were made, and thus tracing the causes of its (the peninsula campaigns) failure to their true sources," is as follows:
"One of the prominent among the causes of ultimate failure was the inaction of eight months, from August, 1861, to April, 1862. More than any other wars, rebellion demands rapid measures. In November, 1861, the army of the Potomac, if not fully supplied with all the 'materiel,' was yet about as com