Fredericksburg: The Army of the Potomac Mobilizes

November 15, 1862 – The Army of the Potomac mobilized for its march on Fredericksburg under its new commander, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals began moving out of Warrenton, led by Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division. Burnside could have tried attacking General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia while it was divided (one corps was at Culpeper Court House and the other was at Winchester), but he planned to instead feint southwest and then hurry southeast to the lightly defended town of Fredericksburg. After capturing that town, he would drive on Richmond.

The sudden swiftness of the Federal army after being so sluggish for so long under George B. McClellan shocked the Confederates. Federal cavalry seized the bridge at Rappahannock Station before the enemy could destroy it, and Federal artillery began shelling Confederate positions at Culpeper. This confused Lee, who thought that Burnside would target Fredericksburg; he did not yet know that the Federal “attack” was part of Burnside’s feint.

By evening, the Federals had disengaged and Lee figured out what was happening. He notified Colonel William Ball, commanding the Confederate defenses at Fredericksburg, “It is reported that the enemy is moving from Warrenton today, and it is probable that he is marching upon Fredericksburg.” Lee then dispatched cavalry to Fredericksburg. The troopers were to defend the town if Federals had not captured it already. If the town was captured, the Confederates were to “take position on the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, where it crosses the North Anna.”

Lee instructed Ball, “The bridges and culverts must be thoroughly destroyed,” with the cross-ties “removed and piled, with the rails placed across them, and, when the timber is sufficiently dry, fired; the weight of the bars will thus cause them to bend, and prevent their being relaid.” Lee then awaited Burnside’s next move.

The Federal Left and Center Grand Divisions under Major Generals Joseph Hooker and William B. Franklin left Warrenton the next day. Sumner’s Grand Division marched along the Rappahannock’s north bank and arrived at Falmouth, across the river about a mile upstream from Fredericksburg, on the 17th. The Federals had covered 40 miles in just two days, a remarkable feat for such an enormous army.

Sumner’s Federals met light Confederate resistance from the small garrison outside Fredericksburg. Seeing that the town could be easily captured, he requested permission to cross the river at Falmouth Ford and attack. Burnside refused, ordering Sumner to stay put until the pontoons arrived.

That night, Lee received word that Federal infantry had reached Falmouth, with Federal transports and gunboats entering nearby Aquia Creek. Lee wrote the secretary of war, “I do not know whether this movement on Fredericksburg is intended as a feint or a real advance upon Richmond,” but “before it (the Federal army) could move from Fredericksburg, I think this whole army will be in position.” Lee directed one of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s divisions at Culpeper to go to Fredericksburg, with the rest of Longstreet’s corps to follow once it was confirmed that Fredericksburg was indeed the Federal target.

The other two Federal Grand Divisions reached Falmouth on the 18th. A New York Tribune correspondent traveling with the Federals reported:

“Officers wont to believe that a great command cannot move more than six miles a day, and accustomed to our old method of waiting a week for the issue of new clothing or a month for the execution of an order to advance, rub their eyes in mute astonishment. We have marched from Warrenton 40 miles, in two days and a half.”

Burnside did not want to attack immediately due to fall rains making the 400-foot-wide Rappahannock impossible to cross without pontoon bridges. His Federals took up positions on the heights across the river from Fredericksburg. The first 48 pontoons arrived at Belle Plain via steam transport, but no wagons or teams were available to haul them to Falmouth.

Lee directed one of Longstreet’s divisions to go to Fredericksburg, and another to advance farther south to block any Federal advance toward Richmond from Fredericksburg. He sent Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry north to reconnoiter enemy positions, and Stuart reported that the entire Federal army was advancing on Fredericksburg. Lee ordered Longstreet’s remaining divisions to hurry directly there without blocking any other routes. He also notified Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at Winchester:

“Unless you think it is advantageous for you to continue longer in the valley, or can accomplish the retention and division of the enemy’s forces by so doing, I think it would be advisable to put some of your divisions in motion across the mountains, and advance them at least as far as Sperryville or Madison Court-House.”

Lee was determined to hold the region south of the Rappahannock because, having not yet been ravaged by war, it provided much needed harvests for his army.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 271; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 234; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 766; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230-31; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4972-84; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-33, 35; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 111-12; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287-88; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 288-90

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Confederate Strategy and Dissension

November 14, 1862 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston found himself at odds with President Jefferson Davis over strategy, and the Confederate secretary of war resigned.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston reported to the War Department ready for action after recovering from wounds suffered at the Battle of Fair Oaks. Johnston met with Secretary of War George W. Randolph, who informed him that due to General Robert E. Lee’s success with the Army of Northern Virginia, Johnston would not be getting his old command back. He would instead most likely be put in a new command overseeing the armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi. These included Braxton Bragg’s, Edmund Kirby Smith’s (though now technically under Bragg), and John C. Pemberton’s.

Johnston replied that since Vicksburg was the most likely Federal target in that theater, there should be a unified command over both banks of the Mississippi. As it stood, the west bank belonged to General Theophilus H. Holmes’s Trans-Mississippi Department, which would be beyond Johnston’s jurisdiction. Randolph said he had already asked Holmes to lead troops east, but Davis overrode him in a letter dated that same day (the 12th):

“I regret to notice that in your letter to General Holmes of October 27… His presence on the west side (of the Mississippi) is not less necessary now that heretofore, and will probably soon be more so… The withdrawal of the commander from the Trans-Mississippi Department for temporary duty elsewhere would have a disastrous effect, and was not contemplated by me.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days later, Randolph submitted his resignation as secretary of war, partly because of Davis’s interference in his department. In particular, Randolph had taken offense to Davis superseding his authority in regards to Holmes and Johnston. Before resigning, Randolph sent Davis’s letter from November 12 with a note: “Inclose a copy of this letter to General Holmes, and inform the President that it has been done, and that (Holmes) has been directed to consider it as part of his instructions.”

Davis, who had generally agreed with Randolph’s management of the War Department, had intervened to override Randolph because the secretary ordered Holmes to come east to reinforce Johnston himself, which would have left the Trans-Mississippi Department without a commander. Davis also expressed concern that Randolph had issued the order without Davis’s prior knowledge.

Davis requested a personal meeting with Randolph to try discussing the matter with him. Randolph declined, his resentment toward Davis’s involvement in War Department affairs finally reaching its breaking point. Davis responded: “As you thus without notice and in terms excluding inquiry retired, nothing remains but to give you this formal notice of the acceptance of your resignation.”

Major General Gustavus W. Smith, commanding Confederate forces defending Richmond, became the interim secretary of war until Davis appointed James A. Seddon of Virginia to the post. As a prominent Richmond attorney and scholar, Seddon had roughly the same high social standing in Virginia as Randolph. Seddon was also a former U.S. and Confederate congressman, and although he had no military experience, he would ably lead the War Department despite much southern criticism.

Meanwhile, Special Order No. 275 officially gave Johnston command of the Division of the West. This included Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and eastern Louisiana. His primary objectives were to oversee Bragg in Tennessee and Pemberton in Mississippi.

Johnston and Davis had never cared for each other, but this intensified while Johnston was recovering because he became close friends with Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, an outspoken critic of Davis and his administration. As such, Johnston attended many social gatherings held by Wigfall and other politicians whom Davis considered enemies.

Davis may have sought to appease these enemies by making Johnston “plenary commander” of the West. The order directed Johnston to set up headquarters “at Chattanooga, or such other place as in his judgment will best secure facilities for ready communication with the troops within the limits of his command, and will repair in person to any part of said command wherever his presence may, for the time, be necessary or desirable.”

On Seddon’s first full day in his new job, Johnston repeated his request for Holmes to send part or all of his forces east. He pointed out that Holmes’s men were about 400 miles closer to the Mississippi than Bragg’s, who could not be relied upon to help defend Vicksburg if needed. Johnston then complained to the adjutant general that the forces in his new domain were “greatly inferior in number to those of the enemy opposed to them, while in the Trans-Mississippi Department our army is very much larger than that of the United States.”

Davis wanted to keep the departments on either side of the Mississippi separate because he sought to hold Confederate territory. However, Johnston contended that the 83,000 men in his department could not defend the hundreds of square miles from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi. Johnston instead sought to rely on maneuver, giving up territory as needed in favor of preserving the strength of his forces.

Johnston argued that the Tennessee River was a “formidable obstacle” that divided Bragg and Pemberton. He also questioned the provision in the order stating that Bragg and Pemberton would continue reporting directly to the War Department and not Johnston; this seemed to relegate Johnston to an advisory role rather than a position of real authority. As such, Johnston called it a “nominal and useless” job.

Johnston was expected to aid Bragg in improving his army’s morale since Bragg was despised among his officers and men. Johnston was also expected to advise Pemberton, another unpopular commander, on how best to defend Vicksburg, the area in the department under the greatest threat. Johnston’s uncertainty of his authority, his commanders’ reluctance to cooperate with each other, and the enormity of the region would make this a formidable assignment.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18420; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 235; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287-89; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 575; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170-71; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462

Vicksburg: Grant Takes Holly Springs

November 13, 1862 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant began his drive on the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, securing an important town for his supply base.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As Grant assembled his attack force at Grand Junction, Tennessee, Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton held the important railroad junction at Holly Springs, Mississippi, 25 miles southwest. When Pemberton learned of the size of Grant’s force being prepared, he directed his troops to fall back toward Abbeville, across the Tallahatchie River. He was soon joined by Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates. Pemberton left just a cavalry force and soldiers convalescing in the hospital at Holly Springs.

The 7th Kansas Cavalry, led by Colonel Albert Lee, rode into Holly Springs near dawn on the 13th. After a brief skirmish, the Federals drove the Confederate troops out of town and took the sick and wounded soldiers prisoner. The Confederates briefly tried taking Holly Springs back, but the Federals secured the town by nightfall. This gave Grant control of the rail center there, which he would use to supply his army’s drive on Vicksburg.

As the Federals advanced from Grand Junction into northern Mississippi, Grant ordered Major General William T. Sherman’s division to begin moving out of Memphis; Grant and Sherman were to unite at Holly Springs on the 30th. Major General Frederick Steele, commanding Federals across the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas, was to lead his force east and advance on Grenada, Mississippi, about 80 miles behind enemy lines. Rear Admiral David D. Porter was to lead his Western Flotilla down the Mississippi to the Yazoo River.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck threatened to ruin Grant’s plan when he ordered Grant on the 23rd to send as many troops as possible directly to Vicksburg without confronting Pemberton. Grant disagreed with this because it would leave Pemberton’s army intact and able to counterattack in the future. He urged Halleck to reconsider because orders had already been issued. Halleck responded, “Proposed movement approved. Do not go too far.”

The movement would begin when Steele’s cavalry, led by General Cadwallader Washburn, raided the railroad near Grenada. Washburn’s troopers destroyed track and cut telegraph wires in the vicinity, clashing with Confederates around Charleston, Penola, and Oakland. Pemberton countered by falling back and reconcentrating most of his forces at Oxford.

Meanwhile, complaints about northern merchants seeking profit in the occupied areas continued. General Alvin Hovey, commanding the lead brigade under Steele, reported, “I cannot refrain from stating to you the effects of the great evil growing out of our commercial intercourse with the rebels. Unprincipled sharpers and Jews are supplying the enemy with all they want… War and commerce with the same people! What a Utopian dream!”

Like many Federal commanders in the department, Hovey accused the Jews of leading the profiteering craze: “Every secret of our camps is carried by the same men that formerly sold their God for thirty pieces of silver, to our worst enemies for a few pounds of cotton.” Hovey stated that his troops had regularly encountered “the blighting effects of their cupidity. No expedition has ever been dreamed of at Helena that these bloodhounds of commerce have not scented out and carried to our enemies days in advance.”

By month’s end, Grant was headquartered at Holly Springs while most of his army had continued south toward Abbeville. Sherman’s Federals reached Wyatt, downriver from Abbeville, where they had to repair a bridge destroyed by retreating Confederates. Steele’s lead brigade landed at the mouth of the Coldwater River, about 50 miles west of Holly Springs. Grant’s advance toward Vicksburg continued into December.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813

Burnside Begins the Fredericksburg Campaign

November 9, 1862 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside issued General Order No. 1 assuming command of the Army of the Potomac. He followed this up with a new plan to capture Richmond.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Upon officially taking command at Warrenton, Burnside tried boosting army morale by reminding the troops that he had been good friends with the outgoing commander, George B. McClellan. Burnside declared that he “fully identified with them in their feeling of respect and esteem for General McClellan, entertained through a long and most friendly association with him.”

Burnside also knew that the Lincoln administration had been unhappy with McClellan’s slowness, so he resolved to begin a new offensive as quickly as possible. He submitted an elaborate plan to his superiors at Washington in which the army would move southwest toward Gordonsville to deceive the Confederates into thinking he would threaten from that direction. The Federals would then suddenly veer southeast and march on Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock River.

Fredericksburg placed the Federals close to their supply base. It also gave them a clearer path to Richmond and enabled them to protect Washington along the way. However, the plan did not include destroying the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, which had been President Abraham Lincoln’s main objective all along. Burnside conceded that he lacked the ability to destroy the enemy, but capturing Richmond “would tend more to cripple the rebel cause than almost any other military event, except the absolute breaking up of their army.”

Burnside also proposed grouping six of his seven army corps into three “grand divisions.” This was intended to facilitate communications because it reduced the number of Burnside’s direct reports. The Grand Divisions would become the army’s right, center, and left wings, respectively led by Major Generals Edwin V. Sumner (II and IX corps), Joseph Hooker (III and V corps), and William B. Franklin (I and VI corps). Major General Franz Sigel’s XI Corps would be left in “independent reserve.”

To put his plan into motion, Burnside wrote that he would need an enormous amount of supplies sent to his new base at Belle Plain, 10 miles northeast of Fredericksburg on the Potomac River. These included transports to deliver food and clothing, a herd of beef cattle, and pontoons to build bridges across the Rappahannock. Burnside would then attack Fredericksburg “as soon as the army arrives in front of the place.”

Burnside tested the feasibility of his plan by allowing a Federal cavalry force under Colonel Ulric Dahlgren to raid Fredericksburg. The Federals successfully rode through the small Confederate detachment guarding the town and took 54 prisoners. This proved to Burnside that the town could be captured. He submitted his plan to his superiors and awaited their approval.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck visited Burnside’s headquarters three days later. Halleck did not give his opinion on Burnside’s strategy, but he told the general that Lincoln had doubts. Burnside defended the plan, explaining that upon making his feint southwest, he would “accumulate a four or five days’ supply for the men and animals; then make a rapid move of the whole force to Fredericksburg, with a view to a movement upon Richmond from that point.”

Lincoln liked Burnside’s idea of keeping Washington protected throughout the movement. But his main objection was that Burnside would be targeting Richmond instead of Lee’s army. Burnside offered more details, including his plan to march along the north bank of the Rappahannock and cross at Falmouth. Somehow, Halleck interpreted this to mean Burnside would cross the river farther upstream and march on Fredericksburg from the south bank. As such, he did not immediately submit Burnside’s requisition order for pontoons when he returned to Washington.

Halleck forwarded Lincoln’s official approval to Burnside on the 14th: “The President has just assented to your plan. He thinks that it will succeed, if you move very rapidly; otherwise not.” Lincoln still had doubts, but he appreciated Burnside’s eagerness to quickly take the offensive and he did not want to cause animosity by rejecting the general’s strategy so soon after taking command. Lincoln also approved Burnside’s Grand Division proposal.

Burnside immediately reorganized the Army of the Potomac and concentrated the forces at Warrenton. His requisition for pontoons was submitted to Brigadier General Daniel P. Woodbury, who supervised pontoon materials and distribution for the army. It was quickly discovered that most of the materials needed were at Harpers Ferry, not Washington, so it would take extra time to get them shipped to Burnside’s base at Belle Plain.

Meanwhile, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was divided, with Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps at Culpeper Court House and Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps at Winchester. Lee knew the Federals had advanced to Warrenton and then stopped. After learning of the Federal cavalry raid on Fredericksburg, he began suspecting that the enemy would target that town. Lee had no specific intelligence on this, but the simple fact that the Federals had stopped moving south made him think that the new commander would introduce a new strategy.

Lee told Jackson to be ready to hurry east if needed. He sent reinforcements to the Confederate garrison at Fredericksburg and told them to stay on alert. He then directed “the railroad from Fredericksburg to Aquia Creek to be entirely destroyed; the bridges, culverts, &c, to be broken; the cross-ties piled and fired, with the rails piled on top, so as to prevent their future use.”

In a letter to Secretary of War George W. Randolph, Lee proposed destroying the railroad from Fredericksburg to Hanover Junction, along with the Orange & Alexandria Railroad from Gordonsville to the Rappahannock. Lee acknowledged that he was merely acting on a hunch, and, “Were I certain of the route he will pursue, I should commence immediately to make it as difficult as possible.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 87; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 233-34; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 765-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 229-30; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4960, 4972; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30, 35; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 286-87; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598-99

The New Department of the Gulf

November 8, 1862 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks received orders assigning him “to the command of the Department of the Gulf, including the State of Texas.” Banks would eventually replace the controversial Major General Benjamin F. Butler.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Butler had tyrannically ruled the department from his headquarters in New Orleans for six months. He had issued orders seizing private property, levying confiscatory taxes, censoring the press, and restricting freedom of movement, speech, and association. He also executed William B. Mumford for aiding the Confederate cause, leading President Jefferson Davis to brand him a war criminal.

Butler often targeted wealthy citizens while he and his cronies got rich on kickbacks from confiscated goods. When Butler imposed a temporary ban on liquor, his agents bought up as much as they could and sold it on the black market for a hefty profit. Butler used Federal warships to transports his goods, which hampered naval efficiency. U.S. Treasury agent George Denison knew about the malfeasance but refused to report Butler because, being an abolitionist, he supported Butler’s efforts to free slaves.

Butler also seized the assets of banks and foreign consulates as “contraband of war.” All immigrants were required to swear loyalty to the U.S. or face deportation. Business owners who did not pledge loyalty had their businesses closed. Churches not including prayers for the Federal cause were closed. Some, such as New Orleans Mayor John Monroe, refused to take a loyalty oath and were sent to prison. Others faced prison for deriding Federal soldiers or voicing support for the Confederacy.

The unprecedented taxes that Butler levied, especially on the wealthy class, led to massive corruption and bureaucracy within Butler’s department. But they also served a positive end by leading to improved sanitation in New Orleans. Consequently, the city was cleaner and healthier than ever before.

Like George B. McClellan and Don Carlos Buell, Butler was a Democrat whose political influence was needed for fellow Democrats to support the war. However, Butler was also popular among the Radical Republicans for his recruitment of blacks into the military and his recent order freeing all “slaves not known to be the slaves of loyal owners.”

Despite Butler’s popularity, President Abraham Lincoln decided to end his controversial reign. But Butler would not receive the news until next month. In taking over the department, Banks’s duties would be greatly expanded beyond Butler’s. Lincoln directed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to write Banks:

“The President regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of all our military and naval operations, and it is hoped that you will not lose a moment in accomplishing it… if Vicksburg can be taken and the Mississippi (River) kept open it seems to me (they) will be about the most important fruits of the campaigns yet set in motion.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks would lead his army to Jackson, Mississippi, “and thus cut off all connection by rail between Northern Mississippi… and Atlanta… the chief military depot of the rebel armies in the West.” Banks would then return to Louisiana and “ascend with a naval and military force the Red River as far as it is navigable, and thus open an outlet for the sugar and cotton of Northern Louisiana. It is also suggested that, having Red River in our possession, it would form the best base for operations in Texas. These instructions are not intended to tie your hands or to hamper your operations in the slightest degree… and I need not assure you, general, that the Government has unlimited confidence not only in your judgment and discretion, but also in your energy and military promptness.”

Banks, the former U.S. Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, had an undistinguished military record. He was best known for his defeats in the Shenandoah Valley at the hands of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. In fact, he had lost so many supplies to the enemy that Confederates nicknamed him “Commissary” Banks.

As he prepared to move, Banks submitted an immense requisition for equipment and horses. The chief quartermaster told Lincoln that the order could not “be filled and got off within an hour short of two months.” Lincoln wrote Banks:

“I have just been overwhelmed and confounded… When you parted with me you had no such ideas in your mind… You must get back to something like the plan you had then or your expedition is a failure before you start. You must be off before Congress meets (in the first week of December)… Now, dear general, do not think this is an ill-natured letter; it is the very reverse. The simple publication of this requisition would ruin you.”

Banks responded by explaining that the large request “was drawn up by an officer who did not fully comprehend my instructions, and inadvertently approved by me without sufficient examination.” Nevertheless, Banks remained in New York preparing for his expedition past his Gulf Coast departure deadline.

Meanwhile, the Federal military occupation of New Orleans continued. A proclamation was issued that Federal congressional elections would be held in parts of the occupied regions of Louisiana. Rear Admiral David G. Farragut arrived in New Orleans, where he discovered a French admiral with two ships and a British Navy corvette defying the Federal blockade nearby. He wrote:

“I am still doing nothing, but waiting for the tide of events and doing all I can to hold what I have, & blockade Mobile. So soon as the river rises, we will have (Rear Admiral David) Porter down from above, who now commands the upper squadron, and then I shall probably go outside… We shall spoil unless we have a fight occasionally.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 233-34, 236; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 758-59, 761-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 229; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 286-87; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 157

McClellan Bids Farewell

November 8, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan formally turned the Army of the Potomac over to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside and bid his troops a sad farewell.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

McClellan, who was boastful and confident, gave way to Burnside, who was modest and timid. Burnside had also professed no desire for army command. But his performance at First Bull Run and on the North Carolina coast had made a good impression on President Abraham Lincoln. Of the other corps commanders in the Army of the Potomac, Burnside had the fewest liabilities or political aspirations; the others were either too old, too reluctant to fight, too politically vocal, or too difficult to control.

Burnside, uncertain about his new role, begged McClellan to stay on and help transition the command. McClellan agreed. On the morning of the 8th, the army was officially notified that McClellan had been removed. Troops expressed shock, disbelief, horror, and rage upon learning that their beloved “Little Mac” no longer led them. McClellan had turned this disorganized, demoralized force into one of the strongest armies on earth, and he had been as popular among his men as he was unpopular among his superiors.

A captain in the 22nd Massachusetts stated that “you wouldn’t give much for the patriotism of the Army of the Potomac, and as for being in good spirits and ready to advance, as the papers say, it is all bosh!” A soldier in the 18th Massachusetts wrote that McClellan’s removal was “the severest blow ever dealt the Army of the Potomac.” Another soldier wrote:

“You don’t know what a commotion the change in the army has made. Officers threaten to resign, and men refuse to fight. In Heaven’s name, why make the transfer now, when all plans are made, and McClellan is our leader, the idol of the army? Why give the enemy the victory?”

Command transferred from “Little Mac” to “Old Burn” on November 9. At 8 a.m. the next morning, both men emerged from McClellan’s headquarters tent and rode to the train station. Federal troops lined the route, cheering and waving their hats for their departing commander. Some “cried like babies,” and others threatened to march on Washington. Color-bearers threw down their flags in his path. An officer described the men as “thunderstruck. There is but one opinion among the troops, and that is that the government has gone mad.” McClellan respectfully removed his hat for the men.

That same day, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, learned of his opponent’s dismissal. This explained why the Federals had stopped their advance. Some Confederates thought McClellan’s removal would demoralize the Federals, while others thought the new commander would be even more reluctant to fight. Lee offered a different opinion, telling Lieutenant General James Longstreet, “We always understood each other so well. I fear they may continue to make these changes till they find someone whom I don’t understand.”

McClellan met with some senior officers at General Fitz John Porter’s headquarters that evening to say farewell. When the officers condemned Republican politicians and the press for demanding McClellan’s removal, McClellan said, “Gentlemen please remember that we are here to serve the interest of no one man. We are here to serve our country.” McClellan wrote an emotional farewell address to his army:

“In parting from you I cannot express the love and gratitude I bear to you. As an army you have grown up under my care. In you I have never found doubt or coldness. The battles you have fought under my command will proudly live in our nation’s history. The glory you have achieved, our mutual perils and fatigues, the graves of our comrades fallen in battle and by disease, the broken forms of those whom wounds and sickness have disabled–the strongest associations which can exist among men–unite us still by an indissoluble tie. We shall ever be comrades in supporting the Constitution of our country and the nationality of its people.”

On the 11th, McClellan boarded a train that took him to Warrenton Junction. Grieving soldiers surrounded the train, uncoupled the car, and begged their former commander to stay. McClellan calmed the men and his disheartened honor guard by stepping out onto the train car’s rear platform and announcing, “Stand by General Burnside as you have stood by me, and all will be well. Good-by lads.”

Colonel Edward Cross of the 5th New Hampshire said, “A shade of sadness crossed his (McClellan’s) face. He carried the hearts of the army with him.” The troops finally composed themselves, recoupled the car, and allowed McClellan to leave the Army of the Potomac for the last time.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 170; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 234; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 756-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 286; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 164-66, 167

Lincoln Removes McClellan

November 7, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan received orders removing him as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

After over a year of frustration with McClellan’s lack of aggressiveness in Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln’s patience finally ended. Lincoln had been under immense pressure to relieve McClellan because of his constant reluctance to attack the Confederates. Some accused McClellan of political duplicity because, as a Democrat, he regularly disagreed with Lincoln’s Republican policies and possibly tried to undermine him. Others accused him of outright treason.

Lincoln had supported McClellan long after most other Republicans had demanded the general’s removal. He had given McClellan one more chance to destroy General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, especially since the Federals had the inside track on the race to Richmond. But Lee hurried to cut him off before he could take advantage. This prompted Lincoln to finally make a move.

Lincoln told John Hay, his private secretary, that when McClellan resumed “delaying on little pretexts of wanting this and that I began to fear that he was playing false–that he did not want to hurt the enemy.” If Lee beat him to the punch again, “I determined to… remove him. He did so & I relieved him.”

Lincoln drafted the order even before the midterm election results were tallied; the Democratic victories were expected. Many Republicans feared that if McClellan remained in command, he would lead a refreshed Democratic Party from his army headquarters. Lincoln did not necessarily agree, but he saw that McClellan would never share the administration’s sense of urgency to defeat the enemy.

Thus, the president issued the order, which included more than just relieving McClellan:

“By direction of the President of the United States, it is ordered that Major-General McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Major-General Burnside take the command of that army. Also that Major-General Hunter take command of the corps in said army which is now commanded by General Burnside. That Major-General Fitz John Porter be relieved from the command of the corps he now commands in said army, and that Major-General Hooker take command of said corps.”

The Radical Republicans admired David Hunter, commanding the Department of the South, and would be happy to see him sent north. Fitz John Porter had been accused of failing to obey orders during the Battle of Second Bull Run and would face charges by a court-martial now that McClellan, his strongest ally, was gone. Joseph Hooker would be promoted to full corps command after his brave conduct during the Battle of Antietam.

Lincoln passed the order to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who added the directive that McClellan “repair to Trenton, N. J., reporting, on your arrival at that place, by telegraph, for further orders.” Halleck delivered the order to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on the 6th. Stanton, formerly a close friend of McClellan’s and now one of his harshest critics, wanted to take special precautions to keep the order secret until it was delivered to McClellan. Stanton feared that McClellan might learn about his removal in the newspapers and organize his supporters to resist.

Stanton assigned Brigadier General C.P. Buckingham, a “confidential assistant adjutant-general to the Secretary of War,” to deliver two orders. One removed McClellan from command, and the other replaced McClellan with Ambrose E. Burnside. When Buckingham expressed doubt that Burnside would accept the promotion (Burnside had already refused twice), Stanton instructed him to use the “strongest arguments to induce him not to refuse.” Buckingham was to “carry the full weight of the President’s authority.”

Maj Gens George McClellan and Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the 7th, Buckingham took a special train to Salem (now Marshall), Virginia, and then rode 15 miles south to arrive at Burnside’s headquarters in an evening snowstorm. When he delivered the order, Burnside immediately refused, having already argued he “was not competent to command such a large army as this.” Burnside was also close friends with McClellan and would not want to take his job from him.

Buckingham countered that McClellan would be removed regardless of whether Burnside took his place. And if Burnside refused, the promotion would go to Hooker, whom Burnside strongly disliked. After nearly two hours of debating, Burnside finally relented and accepted the command. The two men rode through the snow to Salem and then took the train to McClellan’s headquarters at Rectortown to deliver the second part of the order.

McClellan warmly received the men around 11 p.m. He had expected the news after learning about the special train. They handed him the order, which he read with no expression. Then, seeing that Burnside did not want this, McClellan consoled him and reminded him that they had to obey orders.

After the men left, McClellan wrote his wife that Burnside had “never showed himself a better man or truer friend than now.” Upon receiving the order, “I am sure that not a muscle quivered nor was the slightest expression of feeling visible on my face… They (the administration) shall not have that triumph. They have made a great mistake–alas for my poor country–I know in my innermost heart she never had a truer servant.”

McClellan admitted that although he might have made some mistakes, he did not know of “any great blunders.” Refusing to accept blame to the end, he wrote that “if we have failed it was not our fault.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 86-87; Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 168-71; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 231, 233; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 754-56; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 229; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 485; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-29, 33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 284-85; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 561, 570; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 288-90; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462