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Ordered, That the Army and Navy coöperate in an im- CHAP. IX. mediate effort to capture the enemy's batteries upon the Potomac between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN. L. THOMAS, Adjutant-General.
This order has always been subject to the severest criticism from General McClellan's partisans; but if we admit that it was proper for the President to issue any order at all, there can be no valid objection made to the substance of this one. It was indispensable that Washington should be left secure; it would have been madness to allow General McClellan to take all the troops to the Peninsula, leaving the Potomac obstructed by the enemy's batteries so near the capital; and the fixing of a date beyond which the beginning of the movement should not be postponed had been shown to be necessary by the exasperating experience of the past eight months. The criticism so often made, that a general who required to have such orders as these given him should have been dismissed the service, is the most difficult of all to meet. Nobody felt so deeply as Mr. Lincoln the terrible embarrassment of having a general in command of that magnificent army who was absolutely without initiative; who answered
every suggestion of advance with demands for reënforcements; who met entreaties and reproaches with unending arguments to show the superiority of the enemy and the insufficiency of his own resources; and who yet possessed in an eminent degree the enthusiastic devotion of his friends and the general confidence of the rank and file. There was so much of executive efficiency and ability about him
CHAP. IX. that the President kept on hoping to the last
that if he could once "get him started” he would then handle the army well and do great things with it.
UNDAY, the 9th of March, was a day of swiftly CHAP. X.
succeeding emotions at the Executive Mansion. The news of the havoc wrought by the Merrimac in Hampton Roads the day before arrived in the morning, and was received with profound chagrin by the calmest spirits, and with something like consternation by the more excitable. But in the afternoon astonishing tidings came to reverse the morning's depression. The first was of the timely arrival of the Monitor, followed shortly, on the completion of the telegraph to Fort Monroe, by the news of her battle and victory. The exultation of the Government over this providential success was changed to amazement by the receipt of intelligence that the rebel batteries on the Potomac were already abandoned; and the tale of surprises was completed by the news which came in the evening that the Confederate army had abandoned their works at Manassas, retreating southward. General McClellan was with the President and the Secretary of War when this message arrived, and he received it, as might have been expected, with incredulity, which at last gave way to stupefaction. He started at once across the river, ostensibly to
CHAP. X. verify the intelligence, and issued an order that
night for an immediate advance of the army upon Centreville and Manassas. In the elaborate report by which he strove, a year after the fact, to shift from himself the responsibility of all errors, occurs this remarkable sentence: “The retirement of the enemy towards Richmond had been expected as the natural consequence of the movement to the Peninsula, but their adoption of this course immediately on ascertaining that such a movement was intended, while it relieved me from the results of the undue anxiety of my superiors and attested the character of the design, was unfortunate in that the then almost impassable roads between our positions and theirs deprived us of the opportunity for inflicting damage usually afforded by the withdrawal of a large army in the face of a powerful adversary.”
This was the theory immediately adopted by himself, propagated among his staff, communicated to the Prince de Joinville, who published it in France on his return there, and to the Comte de Paris, who, after twenty years, incorporated it in his history - that the enemy, having heard of his scheme for going to the Peninsula, through the indiscretion of the Government, had suddenly taken flight from Manassas. General McClellan asserts this in his report a dozen times; he reiterates it as if he felt that his reputation depended upon it. If it is not true, then in the long contest with the President in regard to a direct attack from Washington the President was right and McClellan was wrong.
The straightforward narrative of General Johnston, and the official orders and correspondence of
W. R. Vol. V.,
the Confederate officers, show that there is not the slightest foundation for this theory of General McClellan's. They show, on the contrary, that the rebel government, nearly a month before this, had concluded that Johnston's position was untenable; that Johnston had shared in the belief, and had begun his preparations to retire on the 22d of February; that instead of ascertaining McClellan's intention to move to the lower Chesapeake, he had been of the opinion that McClellan would advance upon the line designated by Mr. Lincoln, because it was the best line for attack and the most difficult for the rebels to defend; that he knew McClellan's enormous superiority in numbers, and did not purpose to risk everything in resisting him there; that on the 5th of March, having received information of unusual activity in our army Narrative in the direction of Dumfries, he gave his final of Apertary orders, and on the 7th began to move. He proceeded with the greatest deliberation, writing to one of his generals on the 15th, “McClellan seems not to value time especially." His subordinates were equally convinced that the Confederate right was the object of the Union advance; Holmes wrote in that sense to Robert E. Lee on the 15th of March. Lee, who was then directing military operations in Richmond, answered him on the 16th, concurring in this view, recognizing the “advantages” of such a plan, and saying, “that he will advance upon our line as soon as he can, I have no doubt.” Until the 18th of March Johnston did not suspect that McClellan was not advancing to strike his right flank; he then fell back behind the Rapidan, to guard against other contingencies.
W. R. Vol. V.,