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Letter to McClellan.
culty was to fix upon a plan. For the purpose of leading the attention of its General to something like a definite decision however, the order of January 27th was succeeded by the following:
"Executive Mansion, Washington, January 31st, 1862. " ORDERED, That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac, after providing safely for the defence of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad south-westward of what is known as Manassas Junction ; all details to be in the discretion of the Commander-in-chief, and the expedition to move before, or on the twenty-second day of February next.
General McClellan objecting to this movement and earnestly urging a plan of advance upon Richmond by the Lower Rappahannock with Urbana as a base, the President addressed him the following letter:
“ Executive Mansion, Washington, February 3d, 1862 “MY DEAR SIR :-You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac; yours to be done by the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock to Urbana, and across land to the terminus of the railroad on the York river; mine to move directly to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas.
"If you will give satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours :
“First. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expen diture of time and money than mine?
Second, Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan tban mine?
“ Third. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine?
“ Fourth. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this;
Organization into Corps.
President's War Order
that it would break no great line of the enemy's communications, while mine would ?
“Fifth. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine? Yours, truly,
A. LINCOLN. “MAJOR-GENERAL MCCLELLAN.'
Which plain, practical questions were never directly answered.
This army being without any organization into Army Corps, the President, on the 8th of March, as a movement was about to be made toward Manassas, issued a peremptory order to the Commanding General to attend forthwith to such organization, naming the Corps and their Commanders, according to seniority of rank.
On the same day, the President, who had, against his own judgment, yielded the plan for an advance upon Richmond which should at the same time cover Washington, wise through experience, issued the following:
“ Executive Mansion, Washington, March 8th, 1862. "ORDERED. That no change of the base of operations of the Army of the Potomac shall be made without leaving in and about Washington such a force as, in the opinion of the General-in-chief and the commanders of Army Corps, shall leave said city entirely secure.
" That no more than two Army Corps (about fifty thousand troops) of said Army of the Potomac shall be moved en route or a new base of operations until the navigation of the Potomac, from Washington to the Chesapeake Bay, shall be freed from the enemy's batteries, and other obstructions, or until the President shall hereafter give express permission.
“That any movement as aforesaid, en route for a new base of operations, which may be ordered by the General-in-chief, and which may be intended to move upon Chesapeake Bay, shall begin to move upon the bay as early as the 18th of
March, instant, and the General-in-chief shall be responsible that it moves as early as that day.
ORDERED, That the Army and Navy coöperate in an immediate effort to capture the enemy's batteries upon the Potomac between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.
“A BRAHAM LINCOLN. "L. THOMAS, Adjutant-General.”
Finally-after delays manifold, correspondence voluminous, discussions heated, and patience nearly worn threadbarecommenced that military movement, which has passed into history as the American Peninsular Campaign; by virtue of which, commencing about the middle of March, 1862, a large body of finely disciplined troops—their numbers varying, according to various accounts, from one hundred thousand nine hundred and seventy, to one bundred and twenty-one thousand five hundred men-left Alexandria for Richmond, via Yorktown, and succeeded, after sanguinary battles, swamp, sickness, severe exposures, and terrible hardships, in returning (how many of them ?) to Alexandria via Harrison's Landing, by about the middle of August, 1862.
That campaign was the most disastrous drawback of the war, not merely in the loss of men, nor in the failure to reach the end aimed at, but mainly in its enervating effect upon the supporters of the Government. It was Bull Run over again, only immensely magnified, indefinitely prolonged. Fortune seemed determined never to favor our Eastern braves.
Into the details of that campaign it is needless to enter here. Every schoolboy knows them by heart, so far as they are spread upon the record. Equally idle is it to attempt a criticism upon the campaign in a military point of view. That has been already done to a nauseating extent; yet will, doubtless, continue to be done while the reader lives.
No details, nor military criticism therefore here. But that President Lincoln may fairly be presented in his relations to
this campaign, certain observations must be made. And this is the place to make them.
Conceding to General McClellan all the ability, patriotism, and bravery which have been claimed for him by his warmest admirers, there still remain some unfortunate circumstances connected with him, by reason of which—even though be, personally, were responsible for no single one of them-not all the ability, patriotism, and bravery of a Napoleon, Tell, and Bayard combined, could have secured in his person what this country needed for the rooting out of the great rebellion.
It was unfortunate for him that, at the very outset—when so little was known of him, when he had done so littlesycophantic flatterers should have exalted him at once into a great military chieftain. Peculiarly unfortunate was this, considering that the changeable American people were to pass upon him and his actions--that people, in their relations to their leading men, with their “Hosannas” to-day and their "Crucify him's" to-morrow. The sequel of "going up like a rocket” is not generally supposed to be particularly agreeable.
It was unfortunate for him that the opinion obtained, in the minds of many, impartial and competent to judge, that, in his case, caution had passed the bounds of prudence and run mad. There are emergencies when every thing must be risked that nothing be lost.
It was unfortunate for him that he was made the especial pet of those individuals who were most clamorous against an Administration which, whatever its shortcomings, every candid man knew was earnestly intent upon ending the war upon such a basis as could alone, in its judgment, secure permanent peace. If a subordinate general could not agree with his superiors, or content himself with matters purely military, he should have declined to remain in the service.
It was unfortunate for him that his especial friends sought, in print, and public speech, and private conversation, to create the impression that the President did not desire that
he should succeed, owing to a fear that he might prove a formidable competitor at the next Presidential election. Peculiarly unfortunate, when one remembers that this President had, at the outbreak of the war, put at the head of three important military departments three of the most decided of his political opponents-Patterson, Butler, and McClellanthat no man ever occupied the Presidential chair, unless it be its first occupant, who had less selfishness and more disinterestedness in his composition than President Lincoln.
It was unfortunate for him that such desperate efforts were made by his supporters to fasten the responsibility for admitted failures upon other parties. This began at Ball's. Bluff
, as has already been noted. The Secretary of War was dragged in, as well as the President, in connection with the Peninsular Campaign. As to this last, nothing more to the point can be adduced than the words of a man, whose honesty and truthfulness were known wherever he was knownAbraham Lincoln-in a characteristic speech made by him at a Union meeting in Washington, August 6th, 1862, when the issue of the campaign was certain :
“FELLOW-CITIZENS :- I believe there is no precedent for my appearing before you on this occasion ; but it is also true that there is no precedent for your being here yourselves, and I offer, in justification of myself and of you, that, upon examination, I have found nothing in the Constitution against it. I, however, have an impression that there are younger gentlemen who will entertain you better, and better address your understanding than I will or could, and therefore I propose but to detain you a moment longer.
“I am very little inclined on any occasion to say any thing unless I hope to produce some good by it. The only thing I think of just now not likely to be better said by some one else is a matter in which we have heard some other persons blamed for what I did myself. There has been a very widespread attempt to have a quarrel between General McClellan