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These facts, that are now so clear to every one, were not so evident then; and although the President and the leading men in the Government and in Congress were strongly of the opinion that the plan favored by Mr. Lincoln and approved by McDowell, Meigs, and Franklin was the right one, it was a question of the utmost gravity whether he should force the General-in-Chief to adopt it against his obstinate protest.
It would be too much to ask that any government should assume such a responsibility and risk. On the other hand, the removal of the general from the command of the Army of the Potomac would have been a measure not less serious. There was no successor ready who was his equal in accomplishments, in executive efficiency, or in popularity among the soldiers. Besides this, and in spite of his exasperating slowness, the President still entertained for him a strong feeling of personal regard. He therefore, after much deliberation and deep distress of mind, yielded his convictions, gave up his plan, and adopted that of General McClellan for a movement by the lower Chesapeake. He never took a resolution which cost him more in his own feelings and in the estimation of his supporters in Congress and in the country at large. He made no explanation of the reasons that induced this resolution; he thought it better to suffer any misrepresentation rather than to communicate his own grave misgivings to the country. The Committee on the Conduct of the War, who were profoundly grieved and displeased by this decision, made only this grim reference to it: “Your committee have no evidence, either oral or documentary, of the discussions that
of the Committee
ensued, or of the arguments that were submitted to CHAP. IX. the consideration of the President, that led him to relinquish his own line of operations and consent to the one proposed by General McClellan, except Conduct of the result of a council of war held in February, Partl.,p.io. 1862."
This council, which, the committee say, was the first ever called by McClellan, and then only at the direction of the President, was composed of twelve general officers - McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, Barnard, Keyes, Fitz-John Porter, Franklin, W.F. Smith, McCall, Blenker, Andrew Porter, and Naglee of Hooker's division. The first four voted against the Urbana plan; Keyes only favored it on condition that the Potomac batteries should first be reduced. The rest voted for it without conditions. This was the council afterwards referred to by Stanton when he said, “We saw ten generals afraid Diary. to fight.”
This plan of campaign having been definitely adopted, Mr. Lincoln urged it forward as eagerly as if it had been his own. John Tucker, one of the Assistant Secretaries of War, was charged by the President and Mr. Stanton with the entire task of transporting the Army of the Potomac to its new base, and the utmost diligence was enjoined upon him. Quartermasters Rufus Ingalls and Henry C. Hodges were assigned to assist him. We shall see that Tucker performed the prodigious task intrusted to him in a manner not excelled by any similar feat in the annals of the world.
But meanwhile there were two things that the President was anxious to have done, and General McClellan undertook them. One was to reopen
CHAP. IX. the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the
other to clear out the rebel batteries that still obstructed the navigation of the Potomac. For the first, extensive preparations were made: a large body of troops was collected at Harper's Ferry; canal-boats were brought there in sufficient quantity to make a permanent bridge. General McClellan went to the place and, finding everything satisfactory for the operation, telegraphed for a large additional force of cavalry, artillery, and a division of infantry to rendezvous at once at Harper's Ferry, to cross as soon as the bridge was completed, which would be only the work of a day, and then to push on to Winchester and Strasburg. It was only on the morning of the next day, when the attempt was made to pass the canal-boats through the lift-lock, that it was discovered they were some
six inches too wide to go through. The general hih Diary thus found that his permanent bridge, so long expedition planned, and from which so much had been exlockjaw. pected, was impossible. He countermanded his
order for the troops; contented himself with a reconnaissance to Charlestown and Martinsburg, and returned to Washington, as he says, satisfied with what had been accomplished.” He was much surprised at finding that his satisfaction was not shared by the President. Mr. Lincoln's slow anger was thoroughly roused by this ridiculous outcome of an important enterprise, and he received the general on his return in a manner that somewhat disturbed his complacency.
McClellan went on in his leisurely way, preparing for a movement upon the batteries near the Occoquan, undisturbed by the increasing signs of
electric perturbation at the Executive Mansion and CHAP. IX the Capitol, which answered but faintly to the growing excitement in the North. The accumulating hostility and distrust of General McClellan,
-totally unjust as it affected his loyalty and honor and his ardent desire to serve his country in the way that he thought best,—though almost entirely unknown to him, was poured upon the President, the heads of Government, and the leading Members of Congress in letters and conversations and newspaper leaders. Mr. Lincoln felt the injustice of much of this criticism, but he also felt powerless to meet it, unless some measures were adopted to force the general into an activity which was as necessary to his own reputation as to the national cause. The 22d of February came and passed, and the President's order to move on that day was not obeyed. McClellan's inertia prevailed over the President's anxious eagerness.
On the 8th of March, Mr. Lincoln issued two more important General Orders. The first directed General McClellan to divide the Army of the Potomac into four army corps, to be commanded respectively by Generals Irvin McDowell, E. V. Sumner, S. P. Heintzelman, and E. D. Keyes; the forces to be left in front of Washington were to be placed in command of General James S. Wadsworth. A fifth corps was to be formed, to be commanded by General N. P. Banks. For months this measure had been pressed upon General McClellan by the Government. An army of 150,000 men, it was admitted, could not be adequately commanded by the machinery of divisions and brigades alone. But though McClellan accepted this view in
CHAP. IX. principle, he could not be brought to put it into
practice. He said that he would prefer to command the army personally on its first campaign, and then select the corps commanders for their behavior in the field. The Government thought better to make the organization at once, giving the command of corps to the ranking division commanders. The fact that of the four generals chosen three had been in favor of an immediate movement against the enemy in front of Washington will of course be considered as possessing a certain significance. It was usually regarded as a grievance by the partisans of General McClellan. The other order is of such importance that we give it entire:
PRESIDENT'S GENERAL WAR ORDER, No. 3.
WASHINGTON, March 8, 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 for a new base of operations until the navigation of the Potomac from Washington to the Chesapeake Bay shall be freed from 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 the 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.