Tag Archives: George B. McClellan

McClellan Repudiates His Party’s Platform

September 8, 1864 – Former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan officially accepted the presidential nomination by the Democratic Party. However, he alienated the peace wing of the party by repudiating their call to end the war at any cost.

Democratic campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Since being removed from command by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan had remained sequestered at his Orange, New Jersey, home awaiting reassignment. Despite calls from McClellan’s supporters, Lincoln refused to reinstate him. McClellan responded by supporting the Democratic Party in hopes of ousting Lincoln and his Republicans in this year’s election. The Democrats in turn nominated him to directly challenge Lincoln for the presidency.

The Democrats were sharply divided between those who wanted to continue fighting the war until the Union was restored and those who wanted to end the war immediately, regardless of whether the Union was restored. They had compromised at their convention by nominating a War Democrat for president and a Peace Democrat (George H. Pendleton) for vice president, and by endorsing the Peace Democrats’ platform. McClellan quickly learned that the two were not reconcilable.

McClellan faced tremendous pressure. The war faction, particularly eastern Democrats, urged him to renounce the peace platform, especially now that the Federals had captured Atlanta. If McClellan accepted the nomination but said nothing about the platform, War Democrats would perceive it as a tacit approval and possibly withdraw their support.

Conversely, if McClellan did anything less than endorse the peace faction’s call to end the war at any cost, he risked alienating them. Clement L. Vallandigham, the Peace Democrat who authored the platform, warned McClellan, “Do not listen to your Eastern friends who, in an evil hour, may advise you to insinuate even a little war into your letter of acceptance… If anything implying war is presented, 200,000 men in the West will withhold their support.”

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

From his home, McClellan wrote six drafts of his acceptance letter, trying in vain to satisfy both sides. In the early drafts, McClellan seemed to lean toward the peace faction by calling for an immediate armistice to negotiate an end to the war, and supporting a resumption of war only if negotiations failed. But influential War Democrats persuaded him to remove this pledge because once the war stopped, it would most likely not be started again, with or without Union.

McClellan submitted the final draft of his acceptance letter to the nominating committee at midnight. To placate the Peace Democrats, he pledged that if elected, he would “exhaust all the resources of statesmanship” to end the war. McClellan then explained why he accepted the nomination, even though he had not sought it:

“The existence of more than one Government over the region which once owned our flag is incompatible with the peace, the power, and the happiness of the people. The preservation of our Union was the sole avowed object for which the war was commenced. It should have been conducted for that object only, and in accordance with those principles which I took occasion to declare when in active service.”

McClellan then backed the War Democrats by firmly declaring that the war would not end until the Union was restored:

“The Union must be preserved at all hazards. I could not look in the face of my gallant comrades of the army and navy, who have survived so many bloody battles, and tell them that their labor and the sacrifice of so many of our slain and wounded brethren had been in vain, that we had abandoned that Union for which we have so often periled our lives. A vast majority of our people, whether in the army and navy or at home, would, as I would, hail with unbounded joy the permanent restoration of peace, on the basis of the Union under the Constitution, without the effusion of another drop of blood. But no peace can be permanent without Union.”

McClellan stated that when “our present adversaries are ready for peace, on the basis of the Union,” he would be willing to negotiate with them in “a spirit of conciliation and compromise… The Union is the one condition of peace–we ask no more.”

This letter enraged the Peace Democrats, and many hurried to call a new convention to nominate a different candidate. However, they were unable to do so, and most (including Vallandigham) eventually backed McClellan simply because it was too late to find an alternative.

McClellan’s letter meant that if he was elected, everything besides restoring the Union, including ending or reinstating slavery, would be negotiable. But the Confederates would not accept restoration as a condition for peace because their only condition was separation. This ensured that the war would continue until a clear victor emerged.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 179-80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 456; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11564-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 656; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 568; 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. 775-76

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The 1864 Democratic National Convention

August 29, 1864 – Delegates assembled at Chicago to nominate an opponent for Abraham Lincoln, but they were split over how to deal with the Confederacy.

The Democrats had delayed their convention for over two months in hopes that the Federal war effort would stagnate enough so that voters would turn to them to end the costly conflict. But the Democrats did not have the momentum they were hoping for; although Richmond remained uncaptured, the fall of Atlanta was imminent, and the Federals had won a sensational victory at Mobile Bay.

Also, the party was deeply divided between War Democrats who sought to continue the war until the Confederacy returned to the Union, and Peace Democrats (i.e., Copperheads) who sought peace at any price, even if it meant Confederate independence. The Peace Democrats seemed to outnumber the war faction, as delegates cheered the playing of “Dixie” at the convention and gave little applause to Federal war tunes.

Both sides agreed on two things: abolishing slavery should not be a war aim, and Lincoln and the Republicans had ruined the country. August Belmont announced, “Four years of misrule by a sectional, fanatical and corrupt party, have brought our country to the verge of ruin.” An Iowa delegate declared, “With all his vast armies Lincoln has failed, failed, failed, and still the monster usurper wants more victims for his slaughter pens.”

Convention Chairman Thomas Seymour delivered a speech in which he stated, “The Administration cannot save the Union. We can. Mr. Lincoln views many things above the Union. We put the Union first of all. He thinks a (emancipation) proclamation more than peace. We think the blood of our people more precious than edicts of a president.”

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

The delegates adopted their party platform on the 30th. Clement L. Vallandigham, the former Ohio congressman exiled by Lincoln for encouraging men to avoid the draft, chaired the resolutions subcommittee responsible for writing the party platform. This ensured that the Peace Democrats would dictate what policies the party would embrace. It was resolved:

“That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity, or war power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that at the earliest practicable moment peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.”

This was greatly influenced by the Peace Democrats, and it indicated that the party wanted peace above all else, including reunion. The delegation declared, “That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired.” As such, they condemned the Republicans’ “administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution,” which included arresting political dissidents, implementing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, and infringing on the right to bear arms.

The delegates noted the Lincoln administration’s “shameful disregard” of “our fellow citizens who now are, and long have been, prisoners of war in a suffering condition.” This was a criticism of the administration’s refusal to exchange prisoners of war because the Confederacy would not exchange black troops. Consequently, Federal prisoners languished in overcrowded and diseased prison camps such as Andersonville.

The delegates next debated who their presidential nominee should be, with some Peace Democrats refusing to endorse any candidate “with the smell of war on his garments.” Several peace candidates were suggested, including Chairman Seymour, New York Governor Horatio Seymour, and New York Congressman Fernando Wood. Other potential candidates included L.W. Powell of Kentucky and former President Franklin Pierce.

Peace Democrats initially objected to former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, but his backers assured them that “the General is for peace, not war… If he is nominated, he would prefer to restore the Union by peaceful means, rather than by war.” Before the convention had begun, McClellan made his views clear: “If I am elected, I will recommend an immediate armistice and a call for a convention of all the states and insist upon exhausting all and every means to secure peace without further bloodshed.”

Having written the party platform, the Peace Democrats agreed to allow the War Democrats to nominate McClellan. He received 174 votes on the first ballot, with Thomas Seymour garnering 38 and Horatio Seymour 12. Horatio Seymour announced he would not accept the nomination and was dropped. McClellan received 202 1/2 votes on the next ballot, and Vallandigham moved that his nomination be made unanimous.

Democratic campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

To balance the ticket, George H. Pendleton of Ohio was nominated for vice president. Pendleton had opposed the war and voiced sympathy for the Confederacy. Rumors quickly spread that McClellan was so embarrassed by the peace platform that he would refuse to endorse it. But he remained the Democratic nominee nonetheless, poised to defeat his former commander-in-chief in the upcoming election.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 178-79; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 451; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11302; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11543-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 491-92; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 653-54; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 562-64; 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. 771-72, 791; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 343; 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), Q364

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

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