« AnteriorContinuar »
McClellan announced the movement of General Smith in a somewhat excited dispatch to the War Department, which Mr. Stanton answered with still more enthusiastic congratulation. “Good for the first lick ! " he shouts; “Hurrah for Smith and the one-gun battery”-showing the intense eagerness of the Government to find motives for satisfaction and congratulation in McClellan's conduct. But there was no sequel to the movement; indeed, General McClellan's dispatches indicate considerable complacency that Smith was able to hold the position gained. General Webb says,
“Reconnaissances were made, ... but no assaultThe Pen- ing columns were ever organized to take advantage
of any opportunity offered.”
No congratulations or encouragements from the Government now availed anything with McClellan. Struggling with a command and a responsibility too heavy for him, he had fallen into a state of mind in which prompt and energetic action was impossible. His double illusion of an overpowering force of the enemy in his front, and of a Government at Washington that desired the destruction of his army, was always present with him, paralyzing all his plans and actions. In his private letters he speaks of Washington as that “sink of iniquity”; of the people in authority as “those treacherous hounds"; of the predicament he is in, “the rebels
on one side and the Abolitionists and other scounpp. 314 316, drels on the other.” “I feel,” he says, “that the
fate of a nation depends upon me, and I feel that I have not one single friend at the seat of Government” - this at a moment when the Government Was straining every nerve to support him.
“MoClellan's Own Story,'
The Confederates, as Mr. Lincoln had said, CHAP. XX. were daily strengthening their position by fortification and reënforcement. On the 17th of April, General Joseph E. Johnston took command on the Peninsula. He says that his force after the arrival of G. W. Smith's and Longstreet's divisions amounted to about 53,000 men, including 3000 Johnston, sick; he places the force of McClellan at 133,000, tive," p. 117. including Franklin's division of 13,000 floating idly on their transports. He did nothing more than to observe the Union army closely, to complete the fortifications between Yorktown and the inundations of the Warwick, and to hold his own forces in readiness for a movement to the rear. He kept himself informed of the progress of McClellan's engineering work against Yorktown, as it was not his intention to remain long enough to spend an hour under fire. He did not expect to be hurried; he had long before that given his opinion that McClellan did not especially value time. Every day of delay was of course an advantage, but "an additional day or two gained by enduring a cannonade would have been dearly bought in blood," and he therefore determined to go before McClellan's powerful artillery should open upon him. Seeing, as we now can, what was occurring upon both sides of the Warwick River, there is something humiliating and not without a touch of the pathetic in the contrast between the clear vision of Johnston and the blindness of McClellan, in relation to each other's attitude and purpose. While the former was simply watching for the flash of the first guns to
1 His own force is correctly given. He only slightly exaggerates that
CHAP. XX. take his departure, glad of every day that the fir
ing was postponed, but entirely indifferent to the enormous development of the siege-works going on in his sight, the latter was toiling with prodigious industry and ability over his vast earthworks and his formidable batteries, only pausing to send importunate dispatches to Washington for more guns and more soldiers, forbidding the advance of a picket beyond specified limits, carefully concealing every battery until all should be finished, not allowing a gun to be fired until the whole thunderous chorus should open at once, firmly convinced that when he was entirely ready he would fight and destroy the whole rebel army.
Nearly one hundred heavy Parrott guns, mortars, and howitzers were placed in battery against the town and camp of Yorktown and its outlying works, only 1500 or 2000 yards away. Against the opinion of his ablest staff-officers, McClellan kept this immense armament silent for weeks while he was continually adding to it. General Barnard, Chief of Engineers, says: “We should have opened
our batteries on the place as fast as they were comp. 130. pleted.” General Barry, Chief of Artillery, says:
The ease with which the 100 and 200 pounders of this battery [Battery No. 1] were worked, the extraordinary accuracy of their fire, and the since ascertained effects produced upon the enemy by it, force upon me the conviction that the fire of guns of similar caliber and power in the other batteries at much shorter ranges, combined with the cross-vertical fire of the 13 and 10 inch sea-coast mortars, would have compelled the enemy to surrender or abandon his works in less than twelve hours.
W. R. Vol. XI., Part I.,
General McClellan's only reason for refusing to allow the batteries to open fire as they were suc
cessively finished was the fear that they would be Chap. XX. silenced by the converging fire of the enemy as soon as they betrayed their position. That this was a gross error is shown by the Confederate reports. They were perfectly cognizant of the progress and disposition of his batteries; the very good reason why they did not annoy him in their construction was that the Union lines were, to use Johnston's words, “beyond the range of our oldfashioned ship guns.” A few experimental shots were fired from the shore batteries on the 1st of May; the effect of them convinced the Confederate general of the enormous surplus strength of the Federal artillery. The shots from their first volley fell in the camp of the Confederate reserve, a mile and a half beyond the village.?
How long General McClellan would have continued this futile labor if he had been left alone, it is impossible to conjecture. If there was at first a limit in his own mind to the work to be done and the time to be consumed, it must have been con
1 On the 23d of April McClellan add to it to-morrow night five 30wrote to the President: “Do not pounder Parrotts, six 20-pounder misunderstand the apparent in- Parrotts, from five to ten 13action here - not a day, not an inch mortars, and - if it arrives hour has been lost. Works have in time-one 200-pounder Par. been constructed that may almost rott. Before sundown to-morrow be called gigantic, roads built I will essentially complete the through swamps and difficult ra- redoubts necessary to strengthen vines, material brought up, bat- the left of the first parallel; and teries built. I have to-night in will construct that parallel as far battery and ready for action five as Wormley's Creek from the 100-pounder Parrott guns, ten left, and probably all the way 442-inch ordnance guns, eighteen to York River to-morrow night. 20-pounder Parrotts, six Napo- I will then be secure against leon guns, and six 10-pounder sorties." - McClellan to Lincoln. Parrotts; this not counting the MS. With a force of three to batteries in front of Smith and one he was wasting weeks in de on his left-45 guns. I will fensive works.
W. R. Vol. XI., Part III.,
CHAP. XX. tinually moved forward until it passed out of sight.
Up to the last moment he was still making demands which would have taken weeks to fill. The completion of one work was simply an incentive to the beginning of another. Thus, on the 28th of April,
a week after Franklin's arrival,- at a time when Johnston was already preparing to start for Richmond, he telegraphs to Washington as a pleasant bit of news that he had “commenced a new battery from right of first parallel,” and adds: “Would be glad to have the 30-pounder Parrotts in the works around Washington at once. Am very short of that excellent gun.” It is not difficult to imagine how such a dispatch at such a time smote upon the intense anxiety of the President. He answered in
wonder and displeasure: “Your call for Parrott Lincoln to guns from Washington alarms me, chiefly because May 1, 1862. it argues indefinite procrastination. Is anything to
be done » But the general, busy with his trenches and his epaulments, paid no regard to this searching question. Two days later, May 1, he continued his cheery report of new batteries and rifle-pits, and adds, “Enemy still in force and working hard "; and these stereotyped phrases continued with no premonition of
any immediate change until on the 4th he telegraphed, “Yorktown is in our possession,” and later in the day began to magnify his victory, telling what spoils he had captured, and ending with the sounding phrases, “No time shall be lost. . . I shall push the enemy to the wall.”
Johnston had begun his preparation to move on the 27th of April, and on the 3d of May, finding that McClellan's batteries were now ready to open, - a fact apparently not yet known to McClellan,