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the army by water to a new base, at Urbana or elsewhere on the Chesapeake Bay or lower Rappahannock, was stated somewhat in detail in a letter to the Secretary of War, and on the 3d of February the President wrote to the General:
You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac: yours to be done by the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock to Urbana, and across land to the terminus of the railroad on the York River; mine to move directly to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas. If you will give satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours: First. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine? Second. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine? Third. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine? Fourth. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this: that it would break no great line of the enemy's communications, while mine would 2 Fifth. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine?
McClellan claimed to have “substantially” answered these questions in his letter to the Secretary of War, just mentioned, and maintained that “the most brilliant results" were promised by landing the army at Urbana; or, “should that be found unadvisable,” he said, “we can use Mobjack Bay, or, the worst coming to the worst, we can take Fort Monroe as a base, and operate with complete security, although with less celerity and brilliance of results, up the Peninsula. . . . I would respectfully but firmly advise that I may be authorized to undertake at once the movement by Urbana. I believe that it can be carried into execution so nearly simultaneously with the final advance of Buell and Halleck that the columns will support each other.” The order of January 31st was not at this time revoked, nor was the President convinced that it ought to be. He was very much in earnest about relieving the capital from the Potomac blockade and from the long interruption of direct railway communication with the West. General Lander, defeating Stonewall Jackson, occupied Hancock, beyond Harper's Ferry, on the 14th of February; the division of Banks and two of Sedgwick's brigades were sent across the Potomac, and a strong reconnoitering force was advanced to Charlestown. * A general movement by the valley—the favorite plan of General Scott at the first — seems to have been momentarily intended by McClellan; but he returned from Harper's Ferry on the 28th, and a week passed without further visible sign of an intended advance. The President sent for the General on the 8th of March — the day of Curtis's victory at Pea Ridge, in Arkansas. At this interview Lincoln indicated that he was as averse as ever to setting this great army afloat on the Chesapeake Bay, but yielded so far as to permit the General to choose his own method of approaching Richmond. An executive order of this date directed that the Army of the Potomac be organized into five corps: the First, of four divisions, under General I. McDowell; Second, of three divisions, under General E. V. Sumner; Third, of three divisions, under General S. P. Heintzelman; Fourth, of three divisions, under General E. D. Keyes. These four corps comprised “that part of the army destined to enter upon active operations, including the reserve, but excluding the troops to be left in the fortifications about Washington,” under command of General James S. Wadsworth, as Military Governor of the District of Columbia. The divisions under command of General N. P. Banks and General James Shields were to form a separate corps, under Banks. In another order of the same date the President directed:
* General F. W. Lander, who was wounded in action, died a few days later, and was succeeded in command by General James Shields.
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 Generalin-chief and the commanders of Army Corps, shall leave said city entirely secure. . . .
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 on 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.
On the Ioth, McClellan moved in force to Centreville, pausing there for the night, and on the next day, with no enemy in sight, he occupied Manassas. Johnston had been for weeks gradually removing his heavy guns, and no spoils were left behind as the last of his army crossed the Rappahannock. On his retreat the Potomac blockade came to an end.
The Merrimac, a steam frigate partially destroyed by Commander McCauley when he abandoned Norfolk the previous year, had been reconstructed by the Confederates, provided with iron armor and a formidable beak or ram, and re-named the Virginia. On the 8th of March this sea monster came out from the navy-yard and sank the warships Cumberland and Congress in Hampton Roads, without receiving any injury from their tempest of shot and shell. The steam frigate Minnesota, which came to their aid, retired seriously damaged, and ran aground. This first day's work of the Merrimac spread consternation far and wide. For the moment it was dreaded that not only all the craft on James River, but also in Chesapeake Bay and on the Potomac, if not even the navy-yard at Washington, would soon be the victims of a destructive power so invulnerable. There was no less surprise next day, when the destroyer, steaming out of Elizabeth River again to finish with the Minnesota, was met and boldly engaged by a strange little craft, with hardly anything visible above water save a round turret, compared to a cheese-box on a raft. The Merrimac was forced to retreat, partially disabled, and without any profit from the second day's onslaught. The marvelous newcomer was Ericsson's Monitor. So lightly had the inventor's proposals been regarded by the Navy Department, the year before, that their acceptance was chiefly due to the personal attention given to the matter by the President. These two combatants in Hampton Roads assured a reconstruction of the navies of the world. The Merrimac surprise caused a momentary hesitation about the intended movement of McClellan. The terror did not at once subside, for another battle be
tween the sea champions in iron armor was expected. But a second encounter between the two, as it proved, was never to occur.
Soon after the Manassas movement began, the President (in his War Order No. 3- March 11) relieved McClellan from the duties of General-in-chief "he having personally taken the field at the head of the Army of the Potomac”; enlarged Halleck's command in the West, as already noticed; and created the Mountain Department, comprising the country between the departments of McClellan and Halleck, to be commanded by General Fremont. All commanders of departments were ordered to report directly to the Secretary of War. At Fairfax Courthouse, McClellan conferred with his corps commanders on the 13th, and reported that a plan of campaign had been unanimously agreed upon: the operations of the army to be “undertaken from Old Point Comfort, between the York and James Rivers, provided that the Merrimac could be “neutralized”; that “transportation sufficient for an immediate transfer of the force to its new base” could be "ready at Washington and Alexandria to move down the Potomac,” and that a naval force could be had “to silence, or aid in silencing, the enemy's batteries on the York River." It was agreed that the force left to protect Washington should be “such as to give an entire feeling of security for its safety from menace.” The alternative, if these conditions failed, was to move against the enemy behind the Rappahannock at the earliest possible moment.'
By direction of Secretary Stanton, the work of providing transportation by water had begun as early as the