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himself with neutralizing the army at Washington, CHAP. IX. passing the time in drilling and disciplining his troops, who, according to his own account, were seriously in need of it. He could not account for the inactivity of the Union army. Military operations, he says, were practicable until the end of December; but he was never molested. “Our military exercises had never been interrupted. No demonstrations were made by the troops of that army, except the occasional driving in of a Confederate cavalry picket by a large mixed force. The Federal cavalry rarely ventured beyond the protection of infantry, and the ground between of Military the two armies had been less free to it than to that tions," p. 84. of the Confederate army."
There was at no time any serious thought of attacking the Union forces in front of Washington. In the latter part of September (Sept.30), General Johnston had thought it possible for the Richmond Government to give him such additional troops as to enable him to take the offensive, and Jefferson Davis had come to headquarters at Fairfax Court House to confer with the leading commanders on that subject. At this conference, held on the 1st of October, it was taken for granted that no attack could be made, with any chance of success, upon the Union army in its position before Washington; but it was thought that, if enough force could be concentrated for the purpose, the Potomac might be crossed at the nearest ford, Maryland brought into rebellion, and a battle delivered in the rear of Washington, where McClellan would fight at a disadvantage. Mr. Davis asked the three generals present, Johnston, Beauregard, and G. W. Smith,
CHAP. IX. beginning with the last, how many troops would
be required for such a movement. Smith answered “ fifty thousand”; Johnston and Beauregard both
said “sixty thousand”; and all agreed that they of Militarye would require a large increase of ammunition and tions,” p. 76. means of transportation. Mr. Davis said it was im
possible to reënforce them to that extent, and the plan was dropped.
It is hard to believe that during this same month of October, General McClellan, in a careful letter
to the War Department, with an army, according Vol. v.p.9. to his own account, of "147,695 present for duty,"
should have bewailed his numerical inferiority to the
enemy, and begged that all other departments should be stripped of their troops and stores to enable him to make a forward movement, which he professed himself anxious to make not later than the 25th of November, if the Government would give him men enough to meet the enemy on equal terms. This singular infatuation, difficult to understand in a man of high intelligence and physically brave, as McClellan undoubtedly was, must not be lost sight of. It furnishes the sole explanation of many things otherwise inexplicable. He rarely estimated the force immediately opposed to him at less than double its actual strength, and in his correspondence with the Government he persistently minimized his own force. This rule he applied only to the enemy in his immediate vicinity. He had no sympathy with commanders at a distance who asked for reënforcements. When Rosecrans succeeded him in Western Virginia, and wanted additional troops, General McClellan was shocked at the unreasonable request. When Buell informed
W. R. Vol. VII.,
him that W.T. Sherman insisted that two hundred CHAP. IX. thousand men were needed in the West, he handed the letter to Mr.Lincoln, who was sitting in his headquarters at the moment, with the remark, “The man is crazy.” Every man sent to any other department he regarded as a sort of robbery of the Army of the Potomac.
All his demands were complied with to the full extent of the power of the Government. Not only in a material but in a moral sense as well, the President gave him everything that he could. In addition to that mighty army, he gave him his fullest confidence and support. All through the autumn he stood by him, urging him in private to lose no time, but defending him in public against the popular impatience; and when winter came on, and the voice of Congress, nearly unanimous in demanding active operations, added its authoritative tones to the clamor of the country, the President endangered his own popularity by insisting that the general should be allowed to take his time for an advance.
In the latter part of December, McClellan, as already stated, fell seriously ill, and the enforced paralysis of the army that resulted from this illness and lasted several weeks, added a keener edge to the public anxiety. The President painfully appreciated how much of justice there was in the general criticism, which he was doing all that he could to allay. He gave himself, night and day, to the study of the military situation. He read a large number of strategical works. He pored over the reports from the various departments and districts of the field of war. He held long conferences with
CHAP. IX. eminent generals and admirals, and astonished
them by the extent of his special knowledge and the keen intelligence of his questions. He at last convinced himself that there was no necessity for any further delay; that the Army of the Potomac was as nearly ready as it ever would be to take the field against the enemy; and, feeling that he could not wait any longer, on the 10th of January, after calling at General McClellan's house and learning that the general was unable to see him, he sent for Generals McDowell and Franklin, wishing to take counsel with them in regard to the possibility of beginning active operations with the army before Washington. General McDowell has preserved an accurate report of this conference. The President said that he was in great distress; to use his own expression: “If something were not soon done, the bottom would be out of the whole affair; and if
General McClellan did not want to use the army he Life of would like to borrow it, provided he could see how Lincoln,"
it could be made to do something."
In answer to a direct question put by the President to General McDowell, that accomplished soldier gave a frank and straightforward expression of his conviction that by an energetic movement upon both flanks of the enemy - a movement rendered entirely practicable by the superior numbers of the Union army- he could be forced from his works and compelled to accept battle on terms favorable to us. General Franklin rather favored an attack upon Richmond by way of York River. A question arising as to the possibility of obtaining the necessary transportation, the President directed both generals to return the next even
ing, and in the mean time to inform themselves CHAP. IX. thoroughly as to the matter in question. They spent the following day in this duty, and went the next evening to the Executive Mansion with what information they had been able to procure, and submitted a paper in which they both agreed that, in view of the time and means required to take the army to a distant base, operations could now best be undertaken from the present base, substantially as proposed by McDowell. The Secretaries of State and of the Treasury, who were present, coincided in this view, and the Postmaster-General, Mr. Blair, alone opposed it. They separated to meet the next day at three o'clock. General Meigs, having been called into conference, concurred in the opinion that a movement from the present base was preferable; but no definite resolution was taken, as General McClellan was reported as fully recovered from his illness, and another meeting was arranged for Monday, the 13th, at the White House, where the three members of the Cabinet already mentioned, with McDowell, Franklin, Meigs, and General McClellan himself, were present.
At the request of the President, McDowell made a statement of what he and Franklin had done under Mr. Lincoln's orders, and gave his reasons for advising a movement to the front. He spoke with great courtesy and deference towards his superior officer, and made an apology for the position in which he stood. McClellan was not inclined to relieve the situation of any awkwardness there might be in it. He merely said, “coldly, if not curtly,” to McDowell, “You are entitled to have any opinion you please," and made no further re