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Commander-in-Chief, and the expedition to move Chap. IX. before or on the 22d day of February next." This is the President's suggestion of December 1, put at last in the form of a command.
It would not have been characteristic of General McClellan to accept such an order as final, nor of Mr. Lincoln to refuse to listen to his objections and to a full statement of his own views. The President even went so far as to give him, in the following note, dated February 3, a schedule of points on which he might base his objections and develop his views.
MY DEAR SIR: You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac yours to be down 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 railroads southwest of Manassas. If you
will give me satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours:
First. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?
Second. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine?
Third. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your Feb. 3, 1862. plan than mine?
Fourth. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this, 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?
Lincoln to McClellan,
W. R. Vol. V.,
pp. 41, 42.
See also Memoran
dum. W. R. Vol. V.,
This elicited from General McClellan a long letter, dated the same day, in which he dwelt with great emphasis on all the possible objections that could lie against a direct movement from Washington, and insisted with equal energy upon the
CHAP. IX. advantages of a campaign by the lower Chesapeake.
He rejects without argument the suggestion of an attack on both flanks of the enemy, on the ground of insufficient force—a ground that we have seen to be visionary. He says that an attack on the left flank of the enemy is impracticable on account of the length of the line, and confines his statement to a detail of the dangers and difficulties of an attack on the Confederate right by the line of the Occoquan. He insists that he will be met at every point by a determined resistance. To use his own words, he“ brings out, in bold relief, the great advantage possessed by the enemy in the strong central position he occupies, with roads diverging in every direction, and a strong line of defense enabling him to remain on the defensive, with a small force on one flank, while he concentrates everything on the other for a decisive action.” Even if he succeeded in such a movement, he thought little of its results; they would be merely “the possession of the field of battle, the evacuation of the line of the upper Potomac by the enemy, and the moral effect of the victory.”
They would notend the war — the result he seemed to propose to himself in the one decisive battle he expected to fight somewhere. Turning to his own plan, he hoped by moving from his new base on the lower Chesapeake to accomplish this enormous and final success — to force the enemy either “to beat us in a position selected by ourselves, disperse, or pass beneath the Caudine forks.” The point which he thought promised the most brilliant results was Urbana, on the lower Rappahannock; “but one march from West Point (on the York River, at
W.R. Vol. V.,
the junction of the Pamunkey and Mattapony), Chap. IX. the key of that region, and thence but two marches to Richmond.” He enjoys the prospect of brilliant and rapid movements, by which the rebel armies shall be cut off in detail, Richmond taken, and the rebellion brought to a close. He says finally: “My judgment as a general is clearly in favor of this project. .. So much am I in favor of the Southern line of operation, that I would prefer the move from Fortress Monroe as a base - as a certain though less brilliant movement than that from Urbana- to pp. 42-48. an attack upon Manassas.”
Most of the assumptions upon which this letter was based have since proved erroneous. The force which McClellan ascribed to Johnston existed only in his imagination and in the wild stories of his spies. His force was about three times that of Johnston, and was therefore not insufficient for an attack upon one flank of the enemy while the other was held in check. It is now clearly known that the determined resistance that he counted upon, if he should attack by the line of the Occoquan, would not have been made. General Johnston says that about the middle of February he was sent for in great haste to Richmond, and on arriving there was told by Jefferson Davis that the Government thought of withdrawing the army to "a less exposed of Military position.” Johnston replied that the withdrawal of tions," p. 96. the army from Centreville would be necessary before McClellan's invasion,- which was to be looked for as soon as the roads were practicable,— but thought that it might be postponed for the present. He left Richmond, however, with the understanding on his part that the army was to fall back as
CHAP. IX. soon as practicable, and the moment he returned to
his camp he began his preparations to retire at once from a position which both he and the Richmond Government considered absolutely untenable. On the 22d of February, Johnston says, “Orders were given to the chiefs of the quartermaster's and subsistence departments to remove the military property in the depots at Manassas Junction and its dependencies to Gordonsville as quickly as possible.” The railroads were urged to work to their utmost capacity. The line of the Occoquan, against which McClellan was arguing so strenuously to the President, was substantially the route by which Johnston expected him, believing, like the thorough soldier that he was, that it would be taken, because “invasion by that route would be the most difficult to meet"; and knowing that he could not cope with the Federal army north of the Rappahannock, he was ready to retire behind that stream at the first news of McClellan's advance.
Everything now indicates that if McClellan had chosen to obey the President's order and to move upon the enemy in his front in the latter part of February or the first days of March, one of the
1 The following extract shows you any gunboats to aid in the that General McClellan himself attack on the batteries ?' 'No, had some vague thought of mov- they are not needed; all I want is ingat that time:“February came, transportation and canal-boats, and on the 13th General McClel- of which I have plenty that will lan said to me, 'In ten days I shall answer. I did not think it worth be in Richmond.' A little sur- while to reply; but made a note prised at the near approach of a of the date and waited. The ten consummation so devoutly to be days passed away; no movement, wished, I asked, What is your and no preparation for a moveplan, General 1' “Oh,' said he, ment, had been made.”- From a * I mean to cross the river, attack memorandum written by Secreand carry their batteries, and tary Chase. Schuckers, “Life of push on after the enemy.' 'Have 8. P. Chase," p. 446,
cheapest victories ever gained by a fortunate gen- CHAP. IX. eral awaited him. He would have struck an enemy greatly inferior in strength, equipment, and discipline, in the midst of a difficult retreat already begun, encumbered by a vast accumulation of provisions and stores,' which would have become the prize of the victor. He would not have won the battle that was to end the war. That sole battle was a dream of youth and ambition; the war was not of a size to be finished by one fight. But he would have gained, at slight cost, what would have been in reality a substantial success, and would have appeared, in its effect upon public opinion and the morale of the army, an achievement of great importance. The enemy, instead of quietly retiring at his own time, would have seemed to be driven beyond the Rapidan. The clearing the Potomac of hostile camps and batteries above and below Washington, and the capture of millions of pounds of stores, would have afforded a relief to the anxious public mind that the National cause sorely needed at that time, and which General McClellan needed most of all.?
1 The subsistence department Clellan against the President had collected at Manassas Junc- where it is possible, says on this tion more than three million point: “Had Johnston stood, a pounds of provisions. They had battle with good prospect of sucalso two million pounds of meat cess might have been delivered. at Thoroughfare Gap, besides But had he, as there was great large herds of cattle and hogs. likelihood he would do, and as it This accumulation was against is now certain he would have the wish and to the great em- done, fallen back from Manassas barrassment of General John- to the line of the Rapidan his ston.- Johnston, “Narrative of compulsory retirement would Military Operations," pp. 98 and have been esteemed a positive 99.
victory to the Union arms."2 Mr. William Swinton, who Swinton, “ Army of the Potohabitually takes sides with Mc- mac," p. 73.