Tag Archives: Samuel P. Heintzelman

Turmoil in Missouri Continues

January 22, 1864 – The Lincoln administration tried addressing the troubling state of Missouri with a reorganization designed to help both militarily and politically.

Federal Maj Gen John M. Schofield | Image Credit: Flickr.com

After three years of war, Missouri remained a state in turmoil. Major military activity had ended long ago, but raiding and skirmishing continued at countless points, and the political situation was in great disarray. Major General John Schofield, heading the Department of the Missouri, had caused much dissension between the Radicals from Kansas and the conservative Missourians within the Republican Party.

Schofield tried striking a balance between the two factions by supporting conservatives for public office while voicing support for President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He ended up being mistrusted by both. A delegation had gone to Washington last fall to demand that Lincoln replace Schofield with Benjamin F. Butler, but Lincoln refused.

Lincoln backed the new Unionist government in Missouri, which was largely made up of conservatives like himself. He urged Schofield to avoid politics whenever possible and enforce the new state laws. When Schofield employed the state militia, Radicals accused him of consorting with Confederates and demanded that the militia be absorbed into the Federal army.

In December, Schofield became embroiled in more controversy when he refused to endorse the Radical candidate running for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln summoned the general to Washington, where Schofield explained that Kansas and Missouri were just too divided politically to be reconciled. Lincoln tried solving this problem by splitting up the Department of the Missouri.

Under General Order No. 1, a renewed Department of Kansas was created, which included Kansas, the Nebraska Territory, and Fort Smith, Arkansas. This limited Schofield’s department to Missouri, Arkansas (except Fort Smith), and Alton, Illinois. Major General Samuel R. Curtis was assigned to command the Department of Kansas.

Next, a new Department of Arkansas was created to strip Schofield of authority over that state. Major General Frederick Steele would head this new department, which controlled all of Arkansas except Fort Smith. Steele was assigned to not only conquer the areas currently under Confederate control but also restore the state to the Union under Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.”

Third, a new Northern Department was created to strip Schofield of authority over Alton, Illinois. Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman was assigned to command this entity, which encompassed Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, with headquarters at Columbus, Ohio.

And finally, Schofield himself would be replaced by Major General William S. Rosecrans, the recently deposed commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans’s detractors had condemned him for failing to break the siege of Chattanooga, while his supporters claimed that he would have broken it had he been given more time. Lincoln, always willing to give a general a second chance, saw this as an opportunity to restart both military and political relations in Missouri. Schofield, whom Lincoln did not blame for the state’s troubles, would eventually come east to head the Army of the Ohio.

Meanwhile, the provisional Unionist government in Missouri was dealt a blow when its governor, Hamilton R. Gamble, died. He was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Willard Hall, who assured his fellow Unionist Missourians that he would continue enforcing Gamble’s policies, which included backing the Unionist forces in driving all Confederate sympathizers out of the state.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 361; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08, 502; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 387-88, 391, 393; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 452, 455, 457-59; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 537; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23, 176; 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), Q164

The Seven Days Battles: Oak Grove

June 25, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac tried inching closer to Richmond as Confederate General Robert E. Lee planned to drive the Federals off the Virginia Peninsula.

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On June 23, Lee conferred with his top commanders and resolved to attack Federal Major General George B. McClellan’s army before it could advance on the Confederate capital. Lee intended to assault McClellan’s right wing, which was isolated on the north side of the Chickahominy River, on the 26th.

However, McClellan learned of Lee’s plan and resolved to attack first. Leaving his right wing north of the river, McClellan moved with his left. He targeted Oak Grove, which commanded the high ground south of the Chickahominy, a mile and a half closer to Richmond. McClellan hoped to clear that area for his heavy guns to put Richmond under siege. This was intended to be a preliminary movement before a general army advance.

Federal artillery opened on a rainy June 25, and then a division of General Samuel Heintzelman’s III Corps, led by Brigadier General Joseph Hooker, moved forward, supported by Brigadier General Philip Kearny’s division. Skirmishing ensued as Major General Benjamin Huger’s Confederates blocked their path.

Huger had just 6,000 men, but he was soon reinforced by another 3,000 led by General Robert Ransom. The Federals struggled through the swampy terrain, and a heavy volley suddenly sent the Federals in Hooker’s lead brigade under Brigadier General Daniel Sickles running in what Sickles later called “disgraceful confusion.” Kearny sent reinforcements to secure Hooker’s left.

Heintzelman wired McClellan, who was at his headquarters three miles away, for reinforcements. But McClellan, through his chief of staff Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy, ordered a retreat just as fresh troops came up, to the dismay of subordinates at the scene. Hooker hesitated, neither attacking nor retreating, and the battlefield went temporarily quiet.

McClellan then rode to the front two and a half hours later, inspected the lines, and ordered Hooker and Kearny to resume the assault. The Federals were reinforced by a brigade from II Corps and an artillery battery. Fighting occurred at several points, including Oak Grove, King’s School House, French’s Field, and the Orchard.

Charges and countercharges took place on the Williamsburg road until the Federal guns and reinforced infantry pushed the Confederates back to their main defenses. Nightfall gradually stopped both the firing and the rain. The Federals could not penetrate the Confederate line, but McClellan was pleased that they moved about 600 yards closer to Richmond. The Federals suffered 516 casualties (51 killed, 401 wounded, and 64 missing), and the Confederates lost 316 (40 killed, 263 wounded, and 13 missing).

Lee determined that this engagement did not expose his plan to attack McClellan’s right the next day, so that operation remained intact. The main Confederate attack force under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson continued moving into positions. Receiving news of Jackson’s impending arrival, McClellan suspended another scheduled attack and ordered his right wing, consisting of General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, to slow Jackson’s forces.

This action marked McClellan’s first (and last) tactical offensive against Richmond since the beginning of his Peninsula campaign. Although he deemed Porter’s positions acceptable, and although his left was now within five miles of Richmond, McClellan returned to headquarters on the night of the 25th and notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he faced “vastly superior odds.” This was based on an erroneous report that the Confederate Army of Mississippi had come to Richmond from the West, giving Lee up to 200,000 men (he really had no more than 70,000 versus McClellan’s 130,000). McClellan wrote Stanton:

“I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000… I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of reinforcements; that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the Government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action which will probably occur tomorrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs.”

Later that night, McClellan wrote, “I feel that there is no use in again asking for reinforcements,” but then did exactly that in requesting “some new regiments… another division of old troops… also, a couple of new regiments of cavalry.” McClellan concluded, “Every possible precaution is being taken. If I had another good division I could laugh at Jackson… Nothing but overwhelming forces can defeat us.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 Jun 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 185; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 477, 480; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 171-72; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3710-21, 3743, 3750-63; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 443-44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229-30; 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. 465; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-33; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 295-96, 541, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Oak Grove

The Battle of Seven Pines: Day One

May 31, 1862 – Confederates attacked the Federals on the south side of the Chickahominy River, but poor coordination prevented them from accomplishing their main goal of destroying the enemy.

By the morning of the 31st, troops in the front lines of Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac were within six miles of Richmond, with the city’s church steeples visible in the distance. However, the Chickahominy divided McClellan’s 110,000-man army, with three corps north of the river and two to the south. And pouring rains had swelled the waterway, making it dangerously difficult for the two wings to unite if needed.

For the Confederate army, General Joseph E. Johnston had 74,000 men, but he reported just 62,696 effectives. He planned to send two-thirds of that number to attack the Federal wing isolated south of the Chickahominy, with General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps in front and III Corps under General Samuel P. Heintzelman in reserve. Most of Keyes’s Federals were positioned near Fair Oaks Station to the north and Seven Pines to the south.

The massive Confederate mobilization began at dawn, catching the attention of Richmond residents. Many followed the army to see the action, but that action would be delayed several hours. Johnston did not inform anyone of his plans, which required a rigid timetable and skilled coordination to execute. But they were bungled from the start.

Major General James Longstreet was supposed to lead the Confederate left (or north) wing down the Nine Mile road to attack Federals at Fair Oaks and Seven Pines. But he misunderstood Johnston’s verbal orders and instead went down the Williamsburg road, the same road taken by Major General D.H. Hill’s Confederates in the center. This not only jammed traffic on the road, but it greatly narrowed the Confederates’ attacking front.

Moreover, Major General Benjamin Huger’s Confederates were supposed to support Hill’s right, but Johnston merely ordered Huger to “be ready for action.” Huger took this to mean that he should stay in reserve until called upon, but Johnston wanted him to advance with Longstreet and Hill. Thus, Hill advanced unsupported, and Huger never received a specific order to commit his men to the action.

In addition, muddy roads made marching harder than expected, maps were inadequate, troops got lost in the dense woods, and officers got confused because of Johnston’s secrecy. Johnston also failed to establish that Longstreet was to command the operation, even though Major Generals Gustavus W. Smith and Huger outranked him. All these factors worked to completely upset the timetable.

As the Confederates tried untangling themselves on the road, and while Longstreet and Huger argued over who the senior commander was, Hill grew tired of waiting and ordered his men to attack at 1 p.m. Struggling through swamps and thick woods, Hill’s troops slammed into the Federals’ front line led by Brigadier General Silas Casey’s inexperienced 6,000-man division, one mile west of Seven Pines.

Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The initial attack consisted of just Hill’s four brigades, not the 13 total brigades of Hill, Longstreet, and Huger as envisioned. Nevertheless, the Confederates made headway as Casey’s line began buckling. Before Keyes could send Casey reinforcements, the Confederates captured a redoubt and the Federals were forced to retreat. Federal Brigadier General Henry M. Naglee led a bayonet charge that temporarily stalled the Confederate advance and enabled the rest of the Federals to fall back.

Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, commanding the U.S. Army Balloon Corps, reported at 2 p.m. from his observation balloon that Confederates were advancing in battle formation. Lowe continued telegraphing details on the battle to McClellan’s headquarters throughout the day. Thirty minutes later, Heintzelman informed McClellan that a battle had begun, but he had not received any word from Keyes on whether he should bring up reinforcements. Heintzelman soon began sending his men to the front as Keyes tried shoring up his defenses.

Johnston, two and a half miles in the Confederate rear, was not aware that the battle had begun because an atmospheric phenomenon called an “acoustic shadow” prevented him from hearing the sound of firing. General Robert E. Lee, farther in the rear, had to come up and tell Johnston that fighting was taking place. Then, Johnston received a message from Longstreet around 4 p.m. asking for reinforcements. Johnston responded by leading three of Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting’s reserve brigades down the Nine Mile road toward Fair Oaks Station.

About a half hour later, Hill, now reinforced by some of Longstreet’s brigades, approached the second Federal defense line. This consisted of Casey’s remnants, Brigadier General Darius N. Couch’s division from IV Corps, and Brigadier General Philip Kearny’s division from III Corps. The Confederate attacks resumed, but they lacked proper coordination as men were sent piecemeal into the fray.

Hill directed Colonel Micah Jenkins to lead four regiments around the Federal right flank, forcing them to fall back about a mile and a half past Seven Pines. There they established a third defense line, and with more reinforcements arriving, the Federals stopped the Confederate advance and fighting began dying down in that sector around 6 p.m.

To the north, Johnston directed Whiting’s Confederates to attack Keyes’s right flank near Fair Oaks. By this time, Major General Edwin V. Sumner, commanding II Corps north of the Chickahominy, received word from McClellan to stand ready to cross the river and join the fight. Instead of just standing ready, Sumner ordered Brigadier General John Sedgwick’s division to cross the flooded waterway.

Sumner instructed Sedgwick to use the partly submerged Grapevine Bridge, the only available bridge, to cross. When engineers warned Sumner that a crossing was impossible, Sumner snapped, “Impossible? Sir, I tell you I can cross! I am ordered!” The men and horses crossed safely, with the bridge collapsing after the last man made it over.

By the time Whiting’s men arrived, the Federal right was reinforced. The Confederates launched several attacks but made no headway as casualties mounted. Three of Whiting’s four brigade commanders were lost; Confederate Brigadier General Wade Hampton was wounded, and Confederate Brigadier General J.J. Pettigrew was wounded and captured. On the Federal side, Brigadier General Oliver O. Howard was wounded twice, resulting in the amputation of his arm.

Johnston watched the action with his staff atop a nearby ridge, and at 7 p.m. he decided to suspend the attacks until next morning. He was then hit simultaneously by a bullet in his shoulder and shrapnel from an exploding shell in his chest and legs. Johnston fell from his horse, severely wounded and unconscious. He sustained a broken shoulder and broken ribs.

President Jefferson Davis and Lee, who had ridden to the front, saw Johnston being carried off, and Davis offered him words of encouragement. Johnston’s wounds were initially assessed as mortal, but he survived. He wrote in his official report: “Had Major-gen Huger’s division been in position and ready for action when those of Smith, Longstreet, and Hill moved, I am satisfied that Keyes’ corps would have been destroyed instead of merely defeated.” Huger’s Confederates never took part in the action.

Army command passed to G.W. Smith, who was plagued by illness and indecision. When Davis asked Smith for his plans that night, Smith said he had none until he received more information from the front. In the meantime, he offered three options: hold his ground, withdraw, or attack.

Choosing the second option, Smith began withdrawing the Confederates from the field. But then he reconsidered and resolved to renew the fight the next morning. Unimpressed, Davis told Lee as the two men rode back to the capital, “General Lee, I shall assign you to the command of this army. Make your preparations as soon as you reach your quarters. I shall send you the order when we get to Richmond.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76-78; Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-45, 155-58; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 147, 149; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (31 May 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 177-78; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7504; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 451; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 160-61; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3537; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 400-01; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 199, 227-28; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 218-19; 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. 461; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 411; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 668; Wikipedia: Battle of Seven Pines

Johnston Plans to Attack

May 30, 1862 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston received vital intelligence that prompted him to plan an attack on the Federals isolated south of the Chickahominy River.

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

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

Most of Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac was positioned north of what he called “the confounded Chickahominy.” Part of the reason the river was “confounded” was because it was at flood stage, making it difficult for McClellan to unite the right and left wings of his army if needed.

The right wing consisted of three corps totaling 76,000 men. The left wing south of the river consisted of IV and III corps under Generals Erasmus D. Keyes and Samuel P. Heintzelman respectively. These two corps totaled just 34,000 men. Keyes held the forward positions near Fair Oaks Station to the north and the village of Seven Pines, where three roads intersected, to the south. Heintzelman was in reserve.

McClellan had dangerously separated his army based on assurances that Major General Irvin McDowell was coming to reinforce his right. When McDowell was redirected to counter the recent successes of “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, McClellan condemned the Lincoln administration and began preparing to reunite his force. Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, commanding the U.S. Army Balloon Corps, reported from his observation balloon that Confederate troops were massing near Fair Oaks Station, but McClellan did not act on this intelligence.

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

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

By this time, Johnston’s Confederate army had swelled to nearly 75,000 men, and they now had to either fight or flee. Johnston informed President Jefferson Davis that he would attack McClellan’s right wing on the morning of the 29th to keep McDowell from linking to it. Davis wrote his wife Varina (whom he had sent out of Richmond in case of a Federal attack), “We are steadily developing for a great battle, and under God’s favor I trust for a decisive victory.”

Davis hoped that Johnston would have attacked already, but Johnston was in the process of changing his strategy. At a council of war on the night of May 28, Johnston received an important message from Brigadier General Jeb Stuart stating that McDowell’s Federals were moving back toward the Rappahannock and not linking with McClellan as feared. Johnston responded by canceling his plan to attack McClellan’s right and reverting to his original (and more desirable) plan of attacking the isolated left wing.

Johnston did not inform Davis that the attack on the right had been canceled. When Davis heard no sounds of battle as expected on the 29th, he and General Robert E. Lee, his top advisor, rode to Mechanicsville to find out why. There they learned that McDowell was not reinforcing McClellan.

Meanwhile, Johnston began laying the groundwork for his attack south of the Chickahominy, with some skirmishing breaking out near Seven Pines and diversionary fighting occurring north of the Chickahominy near the South Anna River. The next day, Johnston received a report from Confederate scouts stating that the Federals south of the Chickahominy were strong on their left (near Seven Pines) but weak on their right (near Fair Oaks Station). Johnston resolved to attack on May 31.

Johnston divided the army into two wings, with one on either side of the Chickahominy. The right wing would conduct the main assault on the two isolated Federal corps south of the river. Led by Major General James Longstreet, this wing would consist of 22 of the army’s 29 brigades. Under Johnston’s attack plan:

  • Longstreet’s six brigades would form the left sector of the attack line, moving down the Nine Mile road to threaten both Fair Oaks Station and Seven Pines.
  • Major General D.H. Hill’s four brigades would form the center sector, moving down the Williamsburg road to attack the Federals at Seven Pines.
  • Major General Benjamin Huger’s three brigades would support Hill’s right from the Charles City road.
  • Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting’s division would be behind Longstreet on the left in reserve.

Major General Gustavus W. Smith, the second ranking officer behind Johnston, would lead the Confederate left wing north of the Chickahominy. There, divisions under Generals A.P. Hill and John B. Magruder would launch diversionary attacks against the three Federal corps.

Johnston’s plan was sound but somewhat complicated. Johnston’s vague, even contradictory, orders to the commanders, as well as his insistence on secrecy, complicated the plan even further. And heavy storms on the night of the 30th threatened to bog the advance down in mud. However, the storms also worked to Johnston’s advantage because they flooded the Chickahominy, making it even more difficult for McClellan to unite his two wings.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-38; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 147; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 177; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 443-45; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 159-60; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3466-90; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 439-42; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 217; 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. 461; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 668

Lincoln Issues Two General War Orders

March 8, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln demonstrated his flagging confidence in General-in-Chief George B. McClellan by creating a corps command structure within the Army of the Potomac.

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

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

Lincoln and McClellan met at the White House on the morning of the 8th to discuss McClellan’s plan to load the army on transports and move down Chesapeake Bay, landing at Urbanna on Virginia’s coast. During the discussion, Lincoln said that a “very ugly matter” had come up concerning rumors that the plan “was conceived with the traitorous intent of removing its defenders from Washington, and thus giving over to the enemy the capital and the government, thus left defenseless.”

McClellan quickly snapped that no man would call him a traitor, and, according to McClellan, Lincoln relented and “said that he merely repeated what others had said, and that he did not believe a word of it.” To prove his loyalty, McClellan announced that he would share the Urbanna plan with his division commanders, most of whom knew nothing about it yet, and ask them to vote on whether it was sound.

McClellan summoned the 12 division commanders to his headquarters, where he explained the plan and took the vote. He then returned to the White House that same day to report to Lincoln that the commanders had voted in favor of the plan, 8 to 4. This seemed to satisfy Lincoln enough to allow McClellan to proceed with his Urbanna strategy.

However, Lincoln was not completely satisfied until he issued two peremptory orders to McClellan later that day. The first, titled “President’s General War Order No. 2,” dismantled McClellan’s division-command structure by grouping the 12 divisions within the Army of the Potomac into four corps, to be led by Generals Irvin McDowell, Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P. Heintzelman, and Erasmus D. Keyes. A fifth corps was also created and assigned to operate in the Shenandoah Valley under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.

McClellan had considered creating a corps system, but he wanted to select his corps commanders himself once they were tested in battle. Lincoln had not only made the selections, but he had consulted with the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, not McClellan, beforehand. None of those promoted were McClellan’s favorites, and worse, three of the four (McDowell, Sumner, and Heintzelman) had voted against McClellan’s Urbanna plan.

Lincoln’s second directive, titled “President’s General War Order No. 3,” officially approved the Urbanna plan on several conditions:

  • McClellan had to leave enough troops behind so that Washington remained “entirely secure;”
  • He had to reach a consensus among his top officers as to how many men to leave behind;
  • He could not move the bulk of his army until the Confederate blockade of the lower Potomac River was broken;
  • He had to begin operations within 10 days.

Thus, McClellan got the approval he sought for his plan, but he feared that the conditions placed upon the approval might compromise his overall strategy. This would play a significant role in the way he conducted operations in the future.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7164-75; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 252-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 119; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 180-81; 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. 424; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172-75, 598; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 773-74