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PLANS OF CAMPAIGN
BOUT the 1st of December, 1861, Mr. Lincoln,
general-in-chief, the urgent necessity for some movement of the army, suggested to him a plan of campaign which, afterwards much debated and discussed and finally rejected, is now seen to have been eminently wise and sagacious. He made a brief autograph memorandum of his plan, which he handed to McClellan, who kept it for ten days and returned it to Mr. Lincoln with a hurried memorandum in pencil, showing that it made little impression on his mind. The memorandum and answer are so illustrative of the two men that we give them here in full, copied from the original manuscript:
If it were determined to make a forward movement of the Army of the Potomac, without awaiting further increase of numbers or better drill and discipline, how long would it require to actually get in motion!--[Answer, in pencil:) If bridge-trains ready, by December 15th - probably 25th.
After leaving all that would be necessary, how many troops could join the movement from southwest of the river? — (In pencil,] 71,000.
How many from northeast of it! — [In pencil,] 33,000.
Suppose then that of those southwest of the river - CHAP. IX. [in pencil,] 50,000—move forward and menace the enemy at Centreville ? the remainder of the movable force on that side move rapidly to the crossing of the Occoquan by the road from Alexandria towards Richmond; there to be joined by the whole movable force from northeast of the river, having landed from the Potomac just below the mouth of the Occoquan, moved by land up the south side of that stream, to the crossing-point named; then the whole move together, by the road thence to Brentville, and beyond, to the railroad just south of its crossing of Broad Run, a strong detachment of cavalry having gone rapidly ahead to destroy the railroad bridges south and north of the point.
If the crossing of the Occoquan by those from above be resisted, those landing from the Potomac below to take the resisting force of the enemy in rear; or, if the landing from the Potomac be resisted, those crossing the Occoquan from above to take that resisting force in rear. Both points will probably not be successfully resisted at the same time. The force in front of Centreville, if pressed too hardly, should fight back slowly into the intrenchments behind them. Armed vessels and McClellan,
Autograph transportation should remain at the Potomac landing to cover a possible retreat.
General McClellan returned the memorandum with this reply:
I inclose the paper you left with me, filled as you requested. In arriving at the numbers given, I have left the minimum number in garrison and observation.
Information received recently leads me to believe that the enemy could meet us in front with equal forces McClellan nearly, and I have now my mind actively turned to to Lincoln, wards another plan of campaign that I do not think at
Autograph all anticipated by the enemy, nor by many of our own people.
The general's information was, as usual, erroneous. Johnston reports his “effective total”
CHAP. IX. at this time as about 47,000 men — less than one
third what McClellan imagined it. Lincoln, however, did not insist upon knowing what the general's “other plan” was; nor did he press further upon his attention the suggestion that had been so scantily considered and so curtly dismissed. But as the weeks went by in inaction, his thoughts naturally dwelt upon the opportunities afforded by an attack on the enemy's right, and the project took more and more definite shape in his mind.
Congress convened on the 2d of December, and one of its earliest subjects of discussion was the battle of Ball's Bluff. Roscoe Conkling in the House of Representatives, and Zachariah Chandler in the Senate, brought forward resolutions for the appointment of committees to investigate and determine the responsibility for that disaster; but, on motion of Grimes of Iowa, the Senate chose to order a permanent joint committee of three Senators and four Representatives to inquire into the conduct of the war. This action was unanimously agreed to by the House, and the committee was appointed, consisting of Senators B. F. Wade, Chandler, and Andrew Johnson, and of Representatives Gooch, Covode, Julian, and Odell. This committee, known as the Committee on the Conduct of the War, was for four years one of the most important agencies in the country. It assumed, and was sustained by Congress in assuming, a great range of prerogative. It became a stern and zealous censor of both the army and the Government; it called soldiers and statesmen before it, and questioned them like refractory schoolboys. It
claimed to speak for the loyal people of the United Chap. IX. States, and this claim generally met with the sympathy and support of a majority of the people's representatives in Congress assembled. It was often hasty and unjust in its judgments, but always earnest, patriotic, and honest; it was assailed with furious denunciation and defended with headlong and indiscriminating eulogy; and on the whole it must be said to have merited more praise than blame.
Even before this committee was appointed, as we have seen, Senators Chandler and Wade, representing the more ardent and eager spirits in Congress, had repeatedly pressed upon the Government the necessity of employing the Army of the Potomac in active operations; and now that they felt themselves formally intrusted with a mandate from the people to that effect, were still more urgent and persistent. General McClellan and his immediate following treated the committee with something like contempt. But the President, with his larger comprehension of popular forces, knew that he must take into account an agency of such importance; and though he steadily defended General McClellan and his deliberateness of preparation before the committee, he constantly assured him in private that not a moment ought to be lost in getting himself in readiness for a forward movement. A free people, accustomed to considering public affairs as their own, can stand reverses and disappointments; they are capable of making great exertions and great sacrifices. The one thing that they cannot endure is inaction on the part of their rulers; the one thing that they insist upon is to see some
CHAP. IX. result of their exertions and sacrifices. December
was the fifth month that General McClellan had been in command of the greatest army ever brought together on this continent. It was impossible to convince the country that a longer period of preparation was necessary before this army could be led against one inferior in numbers, and not superior in discipline or equipment. As a matter of fact, the country did not believe the rebel army to be equal to the army of the Union in any of these particulars. It did not share the delusion of General McClellan and his staff in regard to the numbers of his adversary, and the common sense of the people was nearer right in its judgment than the computations of the general and his inefficient secret service. McClellan reported to the Secretary of War that Johnston's army, at the end of October, numbered
150,000, and that he would therefore require, to Johnston, make an advance movement with the Army of the of Military Potomac, a force of 240,000. Johnston's report of tions,” p. 81. that date shows an effective total of 41,000 men.
It was useless to try to convince General McClellan of the impossibility of such a concentration of troops in front of him; he simply added together the aggregates furnished by the guesses of his spies and implicitly believed the monstrous sum. It is worthy of notice that the Confederate general rarely fell into the corresponding error. At the
time that McClellan was quadrupling, in his imagJohnston, ination, the rebel force, Johnston was estimating of Military the army under McClellan at exactly its real tions," p. 81. strength.
Aware that his army was less than one-third as strong as the Union forces, Johnston contented