Tag Archives: George B. McClellan

The 1863 Northern State Elections

October 13, 1863 – Various northern states held elections for local and state offices. Since these states were considered crucial to the war effort, President Abraham Lincoln anxiously awaited the results.

Elections for governors and state legislatures took place in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. Democrats had made gains in these states in last year’s Federal elections, and Lincoln worried that the voters might go against his Republican Party again this year. More Democratic victories would indicate that the people were tiring of the way Lincoln was handling the war.

Republicans entered these contests with some momentum thanks to recent military victories, including news that Federal forces had reinforced the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga. But Democrats railed against Lincoln’s war policies, including his suppression of civil liberties and enforcement of conscription. They also warned workers that Lincoln’s commitment to emancipation could mean that freed slaves might come north and compete for their jobs.

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In Ohio, Republicans feared defeat so much that they joined forces with pro-war Democrats to form a “Union” ticket and nominate Democrat John Brough for governor. Brough was opposed by Clement L. Vallandigham, the Copperhead whom Lincoln had banished from the U.S. for encouraging people to oppose the war effort. While exiled in Windsor, Canada, Vallandigham campaigned for “peace at any price,” even if it meant granting Confederate independence.

Lincoln told Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that Ohio caused him “more anxiety… than he had in 1860 when he was chosen” president. Lincoln furloughed Federal employees and soldiers from that state so they could go home and vote, presumably for Republican and “Union” candidates. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a former Ohio governor, left his post to campaign in his home state. Republicans Governors Oliver P. Morton of Indiana and Richard Yates of Illinois also campaigned in Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, staunch Republican Unionist Andrew Curtin ran for reelection. His opponent was Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice George W. Woodward. Republicans re-published Woodward’s statements prior to the war, which included, “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” and, “Secession is not disloyalty” because Lincoln’s election forced the southern states to leave.

Woodward also wrote, “I cannot in justice condemn the South for withdrawing… I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” Although he had two sons serving in the Army of the Potomac, Woodward had ruled the Enrollment Act unconstitutional in his state. George B. McClellan, the still-popular former general-in-chief, wrote that if he lived in Pennsylvania, he would “give to Judge Woodward my voice and my vote.”

Democrats rallied for the possibility of Woodward and Vallandigham allying with Democrat New York Governor Horatio Seymour “in calling from the army troops from their respective States for the purpose of compelling the Administration to invite a convention of the States to adjust our difficulties.”

In response, Chase warned business leaders who reaped financial rewards from the administration’s fiscal policies, “Gov. Curtin’s reelection or defeat is now the success or defeat of the administration of President Lincoln.” At Curtin’s request, Lincoln granted leaves of absence and 15-day railroad passes to Federal employees from Pennsylvania so they could come home and vote. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also granted furloughs to Pennsylvania soldiers so they could “vote as they shot.”

To Lincoln’s relief, Chase telegraphed from Ohio that Vallandigham’s defeat was “complete, beyond all hopes.” Brough won a 57-percent majority, or 100,000 more popular votes than Vallandigham (288,000 to 187,000). Soldiers overwhelmingly favored Brough, 41,000 to 2,000. When Lincoln received news of this victory, he telegraphed, “Glory to God in the highest, Ohio has saved the Nation.”

Curtin also won reelection in Pennsylvania, but just by 51.5 percent, or 15,000 votes. The soldier turnout was much smaller than Ohio, largely because Woodward’s court had ruled that soldiers could not vote outside their home districts. Nevertheless, Curtin’s jubilant campaign managers wired Lincoln, “Pennsylvania stands by you, keeping step with Maine and California to the music of the Union.”

Iowa officials reported that the Republicans had “swept the state overwhelmingly,” and pro-administration candidates made gains in Indiana as well. Ultimately, anti-war Democrats calling the war a failure and seeking peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy alienated their pro-war counterparts, who aligned with Republicans in supporting preservation of the Union at all costs.

Republicans credited these victories partly to letters Lincoln had written defending his war policies to Erastus Corning and John Birchard in June, and to Governor Seymour in August. His letters were later published as a pamphlet titled, “The Letters of President Lincoln on Questions of National Policy,” that sold for eight cents. This election made Lincoln more popular than ever in the North, and it emboldened him to continue his efforts to destroy the Confederacy.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 333; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9649-60, 9727-38; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 828; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 359-60; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 573-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 421; 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. 684-88; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; 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), Q463

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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

McClellan Finally Moves

October 26, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac crossed from Maryland to Virginia, nearly 40 days after the Battle of Antietam.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Besides ordering some minor scouting expeditions, McClellan effectively ignored President Abraham Lincoln’s order to move against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Instead, McClellan requested reinforcements despite having 133,433 men “present for duty” as of October 20. On that same day, Lee reported having just 68,033 effectives.

After McClellan charged Lincoln with doing an “injustice” to the army by stating that the Confederate cavalry was superior, Lincoln wired the general:

“Most certainly I intend no injustice to any, and if I have done any I deeply regret it. To be told, after more than five weeks’ total inaction of the army… that the cavalry horses were too much fatigued to move, presents a cheerless, almost hopeless, prospect for the future, and it may have forced something of impatience in my dispatch.”

That same day, McClellan’s army finally began crossing the Potomac River into Virginia. They crossed on a pontoon bridge at Berlin (now Brunswick), Maryland, five miles downstream from Harpers Ferry. The Federals then moved along the “inside track” toward Richmond that Lincoln had urged McClellan to take weeks earlier.

McClellan ignored the president’s message of regret, instead complaining that the army regiments were “skeletons” that needed filling “before taking them again into action.” McClellan asked “that the order to fill up the old regiments with drafted men may at once be issued.”

Lincoln quickly asked, “Is it your purpose not to go into action again until the men now being drafted in the States are incorporated into the old regiments?” McClellan replied that the statement “before taking them again into action” had been added by a staffer thinking that was what McClellan meant. He explained, “This phrase was not authorized or intended by me. It has conveyed altogether an erroneous impression as to my plans and intentions.”

McClellan assured Lincoln that he did not have “any idea of postponing the advance until the old regiments are filled by drafted men… The crossing will be continued as rapidly as the means at hand will permit. Nothing but the physical difficulties of the operation shall delay it.” Lincoln replied, “I am much pleased with the movement of the Army. When you get entirely across the river let me know. What do you know of the enemy?”

By the 28th, Lee had begun shifting his Confederates in anticipation that McClellan would drive toward Richmond via Culpeper Court House and Manassas Junction. Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps would guard the Blue Ridge passes while Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps moved toward Culpeper, and Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry harassed the Federal right flank.

McClellan left troops behind to guard various towns on the Potomac, but he told General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that these would not be “as sufficient to prevent cavalry raids into Maryland and Pennsylvania.” Halleck promised to send reinforcements from Washington as McClellan moved farther south, but “no new regiments can be sent from here to the Upper Potomac. The guarding of that line is left to your own discretion with the troops now under your command.”

McClellan next wrote Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin stating that he did not consider the force along the Potomac “sufficient to prevent raids and have so represented to General Halleck, who informed me that he has no more troops to send.” He urged Curtin to hurry his state’s militia draft and send the new troops “with the least possible delay to Chambersburg, Hagerstown, Sharpsburg, Williamsport, and Hancock to prevent the possibility of raids.”

McClellan claimed that if he had gotten the reinforcements he requested, “I could have left men enough to have made your frontier reasonably safe. As it is I cannot do it with due regard to the success of the main Army, and beg to warn you in time.”

Turning to the militia draft, McClellan complained to Lincoln about the process of creating new regiments rather than filling shorthanded old regiments with new recruits. McClellan argued that “no greater mistake has been made than the total failure to reinforce the old regiments.” McClellan wrote his wife:

“I have just been put in excellent humor by seeing that instead of sending the drafted men to fill the old rgts (as had been promised me) they are forming them into new rgts. Also that in the face of the great want of cavalry… they are sending the new cavalry rgts from Penna to Louisville instead of hither!! Blind & foolish they will continue to the end.”

As McClellan grumbled, Lincoln made note that his path to Richmond was shorter than Lee’s, who was reorganizing his men west of the Blue Ridge. Lincoln privately resolved that if Lee shifted his forces eastward to block the Federals without McClellan putting up a fight, Lincoln would remove the commander.

Lee left Jackson’s corps in the Valley on the 30th and rode east with Longstreet. The Confederates swiftly marched 60 miles southeast through the Blue Ridge passes and reached Culpeper Court House before McClellan could establish his position at Warrenton, 20 miles to the northeast. As Lincoln feared, Lee blocked McClellan without a fight.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 164-68; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 227; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 752-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 225-26; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 281-82; 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. 569

The Army of the Potomac Remains Stationary

October 13, 1862 – The Federal high command continued prodding Major General George B. McClellan to move his Army of the Potomac into Virginia, but McClellan continued resisting.

A week after receiving orders to confront the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, McClellan still had not moved. During that time, General Robert E. Lee had time to reorganize and resupply his force, and his cavalry under Major General Jeb Stuart had made another daring ride around McClellan’s army almost unopposed. With his patience nearly exhausted, President Abraham Lincoln wrote McClellan a long letter of advice.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Explaining strategy and tactics that a general should already know, Lincoln noted that the Confederate army, currently at Winchester, would have to move southeast through the Blue Ridge to defend the Confederate capital at Richmond, while McClellan’s men could move east along the Blue Ridge and get to the city quicker. Lee’s route “is the arc of a circle,” Lincoln explained, “while yours is the chord.”

Lincoln had previously suggested attacking Lee at Winchester, but McClellan rejected that idea because he would need to open a railroad line between Winchester and Harpers Ferry to supply his army. Lincoln challenged this claim by reminding McClellan that the Confederates consistently marched and fought with little or no supplies.

The president wrote that opening a rail line “wastes all the remainder of autumn to give it to you; and, in fact ignores the question of time, which can not and must not be ignored… We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. If we can not beat the enemy where he is now, we never can… If we never try, we shall never succeed.” Lincoln added:

“You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?… I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march. It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy, and it is unmanly to say they cannot do it. This letter is in no sense an order.”

Before sending this letter, Lincoln sought advice from Vice President Hannibal Hamlin. Hamlin praised McClellan for organizing the Army of the Potomac into such a finely tuned force, but he condemned McClellan’s lack of aggression. Hamlin compared McClellan to Major General Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee, who operated with much more limited resources yet always seemed ready and willing to fight. Hamlin claimed that McClellan was “the first man to build a bridge, but the last man to cross it.”

When McClellan received Lincoln’s letter on the 16th, he replied that he did not have the time to give “the full and respectful consideration which it merits at my hands.” He acknowledged to one of his subordinates that this was probably Lincoln’s last warning for him to move. McClellan said, “Lincoln is down on me. I expect to be relieved from the Army of the Potomac, and to have a command in the West.”

Despite Lincoln’s prodding, McClellan remained motionless except for some reconnoitering around Harpers Ferry. Meanwhile, criticism of McClellan’s inactivity intensified, especially among the Radical Republicans. An editorial in the pro-Radical Chicago Tribune stated, “What devil is it that prevents the Potomac Army from advancing? What malign influence palsies our army and wastes these glorious days for fighting? If it is McClellan, does not the President see that he is a traitor?”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck gave up trying to prod McClellan into action and wrote, “I am sick, tired, and disgusted… There is an immobility here that exceeds all that any man can conceive of. It requires the lever of Archimedes to move this inert mass.”

Lincoln drafted a memorandum estimating the strength of the Army of the Potomac at 231,997 officers and men, of which 144,662 were present for duty. McClellan reported that the army contained 133,433 men “present for duty” and an “aggregate present” of 159,860. Even so, he again asked for reinforcements and new equipment for his men and horses.

Halleck telegraphed McClellan on the 21st, “Telegraph when you move, and on what lines you propose to march.” McClellan declared that he was ready to move the next day, but he needed more cavalry horses. He cited a report from the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry stating that most of the regiment’s horses suffered from “sore-tongue, grease, and consequent lameness, and sore backs… The horses, which are still sound, are absolutely broken down from fatigue.”

Lincoln sent an especially impatient response on the 25th: “I have just read your despatch about sore tongued and fatiegued (sic) horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?”

McClellan responded that the fatigue had been caused by reconnoitering and raiding, as well as chasing Stuart’s Confederates. Lincoln countered, “Stuart’s cavalry outmarched ours, having certainly done more marked service on the Peninsula and everywhere else.”

McClellan angrily asked if making such a statement did “injustice to the excellent officers and men” of his army. He then wrote his wife: “I was mad as a ‘march hare.’ It was one of those dirty little flings that I can’t get used to when they are not merited.” McClellan continued:

“The good of the country requires me to submit to all this from men whom I know to be my inferior!… There never was a truer epithet applied to a certain individual than that of the ‘Gorilla.’ I have insisted that (Secretary of War Edwin) Stanton shall be removed, & that Halleck shall give way to me as Comdr. in Chief. The only safety for the country & for me is to get rid of the lot of them.”

Before finally mobilizing his massive army, McClellan countered Halleck’s message asking which route he would take by asking Halleck which route he should take. McClellan then expressed concern “that a great portion of (General Braxton) Bragg’s Army (withdrawing from Kentucky) is probably now at liberty to unite itself with Lee’s command.”

Halleck responded to the first query, “The Government has entrusted you with defeating and driving back the rebel army in your front.” Regarding the second, Halleck stated that McClellan should not “have any immediate fear of Bragg’s army. You are within 20 miles of Lee’s, while Bragg is distant about 400 miles.” The Federal high command then continued waiting for McClellan to move.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 164; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 751-52; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 222-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 278, 280-81; 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. 568-69; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178

Stuart’s Second Ride Around McClellan

October 10, 1862 – Major General J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart’s Confederate cavalry reached Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in a daring raid on Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, instructed Stuart to take 1,800 horsemen and ride around McClellan’s relatively stagnant army. Stuart was “to gain all information of the position, force, and probable intention of the enemy which you can,” much like Stuart’s ride around the Federals four months ago. He was to observe strict secrecy and “arrest all citizens that may give information to the enemy.”

Stuart also had orders to seize any prominent Pennsylvanians so “that they may be used as hostages, or the means of exchanges for our own citizens that have been carried off by the enemy.” Lee ordered Stuart to treat these people “with all the respect and consideration that circumstances will admit.”

Finally, Lee directed Stuart to wreck the Cumberland Valley Railroad bridge over the Conococheague River near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. This connected to the Pennsylvania Railroad and the coal fields and iron factories of Pittsburgh, thus serving as a vital artery to the Federal supply line.

Stuart assembled his troopers at Darkesville, south of Martinsburg, on the 9th. They rode toward Williamsport that afternoon and early evening, stopping to camp for the night at Hedgesville. The next morning, the Confederates crossed the Potomac at McCoy’s Ford above Martinsburg. They captured several Federal pickets, but some escaped to warn of the Confederates’ approach. When General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck learned the news, he notified McClellan that “not a man should be permitted to return to Virginia.”

The Confederates moved through Maryland’s narrow panhandle along the National road. They captured a signal station, preventing the Federals from signaling their location. As the Federals began mobilizing to find them, Stuart’s men turned north and entered Pennsylvania. The horsemen had observed strict prohibitions on looting in Maryland, a state they hoped might still join the Confederacy. Pennsylvania received no such protection. Some of the Confederates plundered farms and houses.

After a 40-mile ride, the Confederates descended on Chambersburg by nightfall. Stuart demanded the town’s surrender, but all Federal officials had already fled except for newspaper editor Alexander McClure and Judge Francis M. Kimmell. McClure surrendered to General Wade Hampton, whom Stuart appointed as the town’s “military governor.”

The Confederates bivouacked that night in the streets of Chambersburg, and Stuart reported that all civic officials had abandoned the town. McClure showed the Confederates such kind hospitality that they did not follow orders to take him hostage in exchange for captured Confederate citizens.

Stuart led his men out of Chambersburg at dawn on the 11th, worried that last night’s hard rain might have flooded the Potomac crossings. Before leaving, the troopers burned the supply depot, railroad machine shops, trains, and any military equipment they could not take. They also cut the telegraph wires and stole local horses. However, they could not burn the iron Conocoheague Bridge, and a bank employee had escaped from Chambersburg with all the money from the town’s bank vault.

The Confederates moved east, expecting McClellan to send Federals to cut off their upper Potomac escape route. They rode beyond the Blue Ridge into Cashtown, Pennsylvania, where they stopped to feed their horses and raid the Cashtown Inn. Stuart then moved south, avoiding Gettysburg and passing through Emmitsburg, Maryland, in late afternoon. The rains actually helped the Confederates because the horses created no dust clouds that could alert nearby Federals of their presence.

At Emmitsburg, Stuart prohibited any residents from leaving town, fearing that someone might run off to give the Federals his location. Most civilians expressed support for the Confederacy. As the troopers rode out of Emmitsburg, a captured Federal informed Stuart that the Federals awaited him at Frederick, 20 miles away. The troopers bypassed that town and forded the Monocacy River that night.

Federal cavalry began an effort to stop Stuart based on information that McClure provided McClellan. However, McClellan claimed he could spare just 800 horsemen to contend with the Confederates. He dispatched a few cavalry units to pursue the enemy and guard the river fords; he also directed two infantry brigades to protect the bridge spanning the Monocacy River. Another division was sent to guard Poolesville.

On the 12th, Stuart and his men passed through Hayattstown and slipped between two Federal cavalry units near Poolesville. After executing several deceptive maneuvers to throw the Federals off their track, the Confederates crossed the Potomac at White’s Ferry, which was guarded by a single Federal regiment that fell back upon seeing the large force approaching.

The Federals hurried up to the riverbank just after the Confederates crossed. According to William W. Blackford, who rode with Stuart:

“We were not half across when the bank we had left was swarming with the enemy who opened a galling fire upon us, the bullets splashing the water around us like a shower of rain. But the guns from the Virginia side immediately opened on them and mitigated their fire considerably, and we soon crossed and stood once more on Virginia soil.”

The Confederate troopers returned to their base south of Martinsburg the next day. Stuart had failed in his mission to destroy the Conococheague River bridge, but every other aspect of this operation was a resounding Confederate success.

Stuart’s cavalry circumvented McClellan’s army for the second time in four months, covering 126 miles in three days. They had caused an estimated $250,000 in property damage while seizing 1,200 horses, 30 civilian officials who could be exchanged for Confederate prisoners, and valuable intelligence on McClellan’s troop positions. Stuart lost just a few men wounded and two men missing.

The raid embarrassed and infuriated President Abraham Lincoln, especially considering it occurred just before the Federal midterm elections. Lincoln’s secretary, John Nicolay, stated the president “well-nigh lost his temper over it.” General Lee reported to Richmond on the 14th:

“The cavalry expedition to Pennsylvania has returned safe… It had crossed the Potomac at Williamsport and re-crossed at White’s Ford, making the entire circuit, cutting communications, destroying arms, and obtaining many recruits.”

The southern press celebrated Stuart’s feat as another sensational and daring ride around the mighty Federals, and even the influential New York Tribune conceded, “The cavalry raid around our entire army… is the one theme of conversation. It was audacious and brilliant.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 164, 166-67; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 125; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 224; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8214-25; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 749-50; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 221-22; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 277-78; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 528; 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

Lincoln Visits the Stationary Army of the Potomac

October 1, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln left Washington to visit Major General George B. McClellan and inspect the Federal Army of the Potomac after the Battle of Antietam.

Since the Federal victory at Antietam in September, Lincoln had implored McClellan to move his army and finish off General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But McClellan had not only remained stationary while the enemy escaped back into Virginia, he resumed his pattern of demanding massive reinforcements as well. Moreover, Lincoln had heard rumors of anti-administration fervor among McClellan and his command, particularly regarding their opposition to the recently released Emancipation Proclamation.

To help push McClellan into action and investigate the rumors, Lincoln and some advisors left Washington on October 1 to visit the general’s headquarters in western Maryland. McClellan, who had not been informed of the visit beforehand, learned while Lincoln was en route and arranged to meet him at Harpers Ferry, which the Federals had regained after the Confederate withdrawal.

Lincoln explained that the official purpose of his visit was to see the battlefield and visit the troops. A witness observed that Lincoln looked “careworn and troubled” upon his late arrival. He and McClellan rode together while inspecting the troops camped at Bolivar Heights overlooking Harpers Ferry. After McClellan returned to headquarters, Lincoln visited the town, including the arsenal that John Brown and his followers had seized in 1859 in hopes of sparking a mass slave uprising.

Lincoln occupied a tent beside McClellan’s for the next two days. He became a conspicuous sightseer in his black suit and stovepipe hat as he reviewed troops stationed at Loudoun and Maryland Heights with Major General Edwin V. Sumner. Lincoln visited army camps and hospitals, and he toured the Antietam battlefield in an ambulance “with his long legs doubled up so that his knees almost struck his chin,” noted a Federal officer. McClellan tried describing the battle, but Lincoln curtly ended the tour and returned to camp.

Meeting of Lincoln and McClellan | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln calculated army strength at 88,095 troops, more than enough to confront Lee. This prompted McClellan to write his wife, “I incline to think the real purpose of his visit is to push me into a premature advance into Virginia.” He complained that the army was “not fit to advance–the old regiments are reduced to mere skeletons and are completely tired out–they need rest and filling up.” McClellan concluded, “These people don’t know what an army requires, and therefore act stupidly.”

McClellan later claimed that Lincoln told him privately, “General, you have saved the country. You must remain in command and carry us through to the end.” McClellan also alleged that Lincoln told him not to move the army until he was completely ready and confident of success, and he would defend McClellan against his critics. This was not corroborated, though Lincoln did discuss what he believed to be McClellan’s “over-cautiousness” in refusing to move.

Before dawn on the 3rd, Lincoln brought friend Ozias M. Hatch out for a walk. They climbed a hillside overlooking the white tents of the Federal army below, where Lincoln asked, “Hatch, Hatch, what is all this?” Hatch replied, “Why, Mr. Lincoln, this is the Army of the Potomac.” Lincoln said, “No, Hatch, no. This is General McClellan’s bodyguard.” Only the troops’ strong devotion to McClellan prevented the president from replacing their beloved commander.

Lincoln reviewed the troops later that day, where some noted that he did not cordially greet them as he had done in past reviews. One officer stated that Lincoln offered “not a word of approval, not even a smile of approbation.” After the review, Lincoln rode with friend Ward Hill Lamon, who tried cheering him by singing songs and telling funny stories. Opponents later accused Lincoln of insulting fallen soldiers by laughing on the battlefield.

Lincoln continued touring hospitals and camps on the 4th and then left for Washington that afternoon. McClellan addressed the issue of possible dissension within the army by ordering subordinates to remain obedient to civil authority, even if they disagreed with administration policies. McClellan stated, “The remedy for political errors, if any are committed, is to be found only in the action of the people at the polls.”

Back at Washington, Lincoln discussed his visit with his cabinet on the 6th, and then issued an order to McClellan through General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“The President directs that you cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy or drive him south. Your army must move now while the roads are good. If you cross the river between the enemy and Washington, and cover the latter by your operation, you can be re-enforced with 30,000 men. If you move up the Valley of the Shenandoah, not more than 12,000 or 15,000 can be sent to you.

“The President advises the interior line between Washington and the enemy, but does not order it. He is very desirous that your army move as soon as possible. You will immediately report what line you adopt and when you intend to cross the river; also to what point the re-enforcements are to be sent. It is necessary that the plan of your operations be positively determined on before orders are given for building bridges and repairing railroads.”

This message amazed McClellan, who thought he had persuaded Lincoln that the army needed more time to regroup before moving. McClellan answered that he was “pushing everything as rapidly as possible in order to get ready for the advance,” but then he asserted that he lacked the necessary supplies and made no major movements.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 86; Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 220-21, 223; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8180-203; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 216-19; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 484-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 748-49; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 273-76; 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. 559; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 489-90