September 28, 1861 – The growing tension between Major General George B. McClellan and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott resulted in a harsh exchange after a conference on military strategy.
In Washington, General McClellan continued organizing and building up the new Army of the Potomac. By this month, the army was larger than any ever before assembled in North America. Northerners nicknamed McClellan “Little Napoleon,” and some hailed him as the savior of the Union. McClellan enjoyed this immense popularity.
However, some began grumbling about McClellan’s supposed reluctance to test his new army in combat. The “Quaker gun” incident atop Munson’s Hill outside Washington slightly blemished McClellan’s stellar reputation. Others noted that McClellan, a young, rising military star, and Winfield Scott, the aging, ailing commander of all Federal armies, were not exactly seeing eye to eye when it came to military matters.
These tensions became clear during a meeting in Scott’s office with President Abraham Lincoln, the cabinet, the two commanders, and their rival staffs. Scott became angry when it was revealed that Secretary of State William H. Seward knew the troop count in and around Washington, even though McClellan had not shared these figures with either Secretary of War Simon Cameron or Scott, his immediate superiors.
After the meeting ended, McClellan extended his hand and said, “Good morning, General Scott.” Scott shook McClellan’s hand and replied, “You were called here (from western Virginia) by my advice. The times require vigilance and activity. I am not active and never shall be again. When I proposed that you should come here to aid, not supersede, me, you had my friendship and confidence. You still have my confidence.”
McClellan wrote to his wife that evening: “As he threw down the glove, I picked it up. I presume war is declared—so be it. I do not fear him. I have one strong point; that I do not care one iota for my present position.”
Beatie, Russel H., Army of the Potomac, Volume 2: McClellan Takes Command, September 1861-February 1862 (Da Capo Press, Inc., 2002); CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 122