The President’s General War Order Number 1

January 27, 1862 – President Lincoln designated February 22 as “the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

The President’s General War Order No. 1, written and signed by Lincoln without consulting any advisors, was without precedent. It was designed to celebrate Washington’s Birthday, disrupt the upcoming Confederate inaugural ceremonies, and force General-in-Chief George B. McClellan to move. The order also addressed the frustration both Lincoln and his new secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, experienced with McClellan’s reluctance to divulge his plans.

Lincoln specifically ordered advances by army forces at Fort Monroe, northern Virginia, western Virginia, and Kentucky, along with the naval squadrons at Cairo and the Gulf of Mexico. He also directed Generals Samuel R. Curtis and John Pope in Missouri, and Colonel Edward R.S. Canby in the New Mexico Territory, to “obey existing orders, for the time, and be ready to obey additional orders when duly given.” The order concluded:

“That the Heads of Departments, and especially the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, with all their subordinates; and the General-in Chief, with all other commanders and subordinates, of Land and Naval forces, will severally be held to their strict and full responsibilities, for the prompt execution of this order.”

The directive did not take into account intangibles such as weather, road conditions, lines of communication or supply, or logistics. It served more as a desperate warning to Federal commanders that they could not remain idle any longer.

McClellan, who had recovered from typhoid and “found that excessive anxiety for an immediate movement of the Army of the Potomac had taken possession of the minds of the Administration,” ignored this order. However, it did help compel him to finally share the details of his military strategy with Lincoln.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 68; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (January 27); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 118; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7044; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 248; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 102; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 426; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 163-64; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 601; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 773-74

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