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On the 1st of November, General McClellan was appointed by the President to succeed General Scott in the command of all the armies of the Union, remaining in personal command of the Army of the Potomac. His attention was then of necessity turned to the direction of army movements, and to the conduct of political affairs, so far as they came under military control, in the more distant sections of the country. But no movement took place in the Army of the Potomac.
The season had been unusually favorable for military operations—the troops were admirably organized and dis ciplined, and in the highest state of efficiency-in num bers they were known to be far superior to those of the rebels opposed to them, who were nevertheless permitted steadily to push their approaches towards Washington, while, from the highest officer to the humblest private, our forcés were all animated with an eager desire to be led against the enemies of their country. As winter approached without any indications of an intended movement of our armies, the public impatience rose to the highest point of discontent. The Administration was everywhere held responsible for these unaccountable delays, and was freely charged by its opponents with a design to protract the war for selfish political purposes of its own; and at the fall election the public dissatisfaction made itself manifest by adverse votes in every considerable State where elections were held.
linable longer to endure this state of things, President Lincoln put an end to it on the 27th of January, 1862, by issuing the following order :
EXECUTIVE Manstox, WASHINGTON, January 27, 1862. Ordered. That the twenty-second day of February, 1862, be the day for a general movement of the land and naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces. That especially the army at and about For. tress Monroe, the Army of the Potomac, the Army of Western Virginia, the army near Munfordsville, Kentucky, the army and flotilla at Cairo, and a naval force in the Gulf of Mexico, be ready to move on that day.
That all other forces, both land and naval, with their respective commanders, obey existing orders for the time, and be ready to obey additional orders when duly given.
That the heads of departments, and especially the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, with all their subordinates, and the General-in-Chief, with all other commanders and subordinates of land and naval forces, will severally be held to their strict and full responsibilities for dirompt execution of this order.
This order, which applied to all the armies of the United States, was followed four days afterwards by the fol. lowing special order directed to General McClellan :
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WABHINGTON, January 31, 1562. Ordered, That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac, after providing safely for the defence of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad southwest of what is known as Manassas Junction, all details to be in the discretion of the Commander-in-Chief, and the expedition to move before or on the twenty-second day of February next.
The object of this order was to engage the rebel army in front of Washington by a flank attack, and by its defeat relieve the Capital, put Richmond at our mercy, and break the main strength of the rebellion hy destroying the principal army arrayed in its support. Instead of obeying it, General McClellan remonstrated against its execution, and urged the adoption of a different plan of attack, which was to move upon Richmond by way of the Chesapeake Bay, the Rappahannock River, and a land march across the country from Urbana, leaving the rebel forces in position at Manassas to be held in check, if they should attempt a forward movement, only by the troops in the fortifications around Washington. As the result of several conferences with the President, he obtained permission to state in writing his objections to his plan—the President meantime sending him the following letter of inquiry :
EXECUTIVE MANStox, WASHINGTON, February 3, 1862 My Dear Sır:-You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Ariny of the Potomac: yours to be done by the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock to Urbana, and across land to the terminus of the railroal on the York River; mine to move directly to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas.
If you will give satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours :
1st. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?
2d. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine? 3d. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than rine?
4th. 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 ?
5th. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine?
Yours, truly, ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Major-General McCLELLAN.
General McClellan sent to the Secretary of War, under date of February 3d, a very long letter, presenting strongly the advantage possessed by the rebels in holding a central defensive position, from which they could with a small force resist any attack on either flank, concentrating their main strength upon the other for a deci. sive action. The uncertainties of the weather, the necessity of having long lines of communication, and the probable indecisiveness even of a victory, if one should be gained, were urged against the President's plan. So strongly was General McClellan in favor of his own plan of operations, that he said he “should prefer the move from Fortress Monroe as a base, to an attack upon Manassas," The President was by no means convinced by General McClellan's reasoning; but in consequence of his steady resistance and unwillingness to enter upon the execution of any other plan, he assented to a submission of the matter to a council of twelve officers held late in February, at head-quarters. The result of that council was, a decision in favor of moving by way of the lower Chesapeake and the Rappahannock-seven of the Generals present, viz., Fitz-John Porter, Franklin, W. F. Smith, McCall, Blenker, Andrew Porter, and Naglee, voting in favor of it, as did Keyes also, with the qualification that the army should not move until the rebels were driven from the Potomac, and Generals McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and Barnard, voting against it.
In this decision the President acquiesced, and on the 8th of March issued two general war orders, the first directing the Major-General commanding the Army of the Potomac to proceed forthwith to organize that part of said army destined to enter upon active operations into four army corps, to be commanded, the first by General McDowell, the second by General Sumner, the third by General Heintzelman, and the fourth by General Keyes. General Banks was assigned to the command of a fifth corps. It also appointed General Wadsworth Military Governor at Washington, and directed the order to be “executed with such promptness and dispatch as not to delay the commencement of the operations already directed to be undertaken by the Army of the Potomac.
The second of these orders was as follows:
EXECUTIVE MAXsion, Washington, Marc, 8, 1502. 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 cum. manders 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 the 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 tho bay as early as the eighteenth March instant, and the General-in-Chief shall be responsible that it moves as early as that day.
Ordered, That the army and navy co-operate in an immediate effort to capture the enemy's batteries upon the Potomac between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN. L. Thomas, Adjutant-General.
This order was issued on the Sth of March. On the 9th, information was received by General McClellan, at Washington, that the enemy had abandoned his position in front of that city. He at once crossed the Potomac, and on the same night issued orders for an immediate advance of the whole army towards Manassas--not with any intention, as he has since explained, of pursuing the rebels, and taking advantage of their retreat, but to “get rid of superfluous baggage and other impediments which accumulate so easily around an army encamped for a long time in one locality"_to give the troops “some experience on the march and bivouac preparatory to the campaign,” and to afford them also a “good intermediate step between the quiet and comparative comfort of the camps around Washington and the vigor of active operations."* These objects, in General McClellan's opinion, were sufficiently accomplished by what the Prince de Joinville, of his staff, styles a "promenade” of the army to Manassas, where they learned, from personal inspection, that the rebels had actually evacuated that position; and on the 15th, orders were issued for a return of the forces to Alexandria.
On the 11th of March, the President issued another order, stating that “Major-General McClellan having personally taken the field at the head of the Army of the Potomac, until otherwise ordered, he is relieved from the command of the other military departments, retaining command of the Department of the Potomac.” MajorGeneral Halleck was assigned to the command of the De. partment of the Mississippi, and the Mountain Depart ment was created for Major-General Fremont. All the commanders of departments were also required to report directly to the Secretary of War.
On the 13th of March, a council of war was held at head-quarters, then at Fairfax Court-House, by which it was decided that, as the enemy had retreated behind the Rappahannock, operations against Richmond could best be conducted from Fortress Monroe, provided :
1st. That tho enemy's vessel, Merrimac, can be neutralized.
2d. That the means of transportation, sufficient for an immediate trans. fer of the force to its new base, can be ready at Washington and Alexan. dria to move down the Potomac; and,
3d. That a naval auxiliary force can be had to silence, or aid in silon. sing, the enemy's batteries on the York River.
* See General McClellan's Report, dated August 4, 1863.