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Military Events in the East.—The Peninsular Campaign.
The fortifications around Washington, commenced by Gen. J. G. Barnard, Chief Engineer under McDowell, and continued by the same officer under McClellan, had been essentially completed before the close of September, 1861. In an order issued on the 30th of that month, the commanding General designated the names by which the thirty-two principal works should be respectively known. From this time onward a large portion of the Army of the Potomac was no longer needed on merely defensive duty. In a communication addressed to the Secretary of War in the latter part of October, Gen. McClellan estimated the number of troops required for the protection of Washington at 35,000, with a further force of 23,000, to be distributed on the Upper and Lower Potomae, and at Baltimore and Annapolis. The main purpose of this vast army, raised, equipped and disciplined at such a cost, was manifestly something quite beyond what 58,000 men alone amply sufficed to accomplish. To destroy the Rebel army before Washington, and to occupy Richmond, were, in the minds alike of military men and civilians, the prime objects to be effected by the Army of the Potomac.
October, November, December, passed without result. The commanding General admits his consciousness of the anxiety no less of the people than of the President for active operations during these pleasant months, on the part of an army sustained at a cost of millions daily. Gen. McClellan's official statement gives his entire force on the 1st of December as 198,213, of whom 169,452 were present for duty, and on the first of January, 1862, as 219,707, of whom 191,480 were "effective." Aftor deducting the 58,000 deemed necessary for defensive purposes—and most of these might also have been employed in a direct movement on Manassas—there thus remained an effective »rmy of 111,452 at the former date, and of 133,480 at the latter, for an aggressive movement. Beauregard, who had hia neadquarters at Centreville, until he was transferred to another command, on the 30th of January, certainly had at no time a force in McClellan's front exceeding one-half the number of the Army of the Potomac.
Gen. McClellan records no surprising fact, therefore, when he states that "about the middle of January, 1862, upon recovering from a severe illness," he "found that excessive anxiety for an immediate movement of the Army of the Potomac had taken possession of the minds of the Administration."
More than six months having elapsed since the command of this army had devolved upon Gen. McClellan, without the development of either a particular plan or a general purpose of attacking the enemy, under circumstances the most favorable, and an unexpected quiescence having followed his appointment as General-in-chief, the President at length issued his "General War Order, No. 1," as follows:
Executive Mansion, Washington, )
President's General War Order, No. 1.]
Ordered, That the 22d 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 Fortress Monroe, the Army of the Potomae, the Army of Western Virginia, the Army near Mumfordsville, Kentucky, the Army and Flotilla at Cairo, and a Naval force in the Gulf of Mexico, be ready for a movement 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 the prompt execution of this order.
Abraham Lincoln. This mandate, communicated to high officers immediately concerned, was not made public until the 11th ot March following. In it, the President fully resumed his constitutional position as Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, practically dispensing with the services of Gen. McClellan as a "Lieutenant," in the discharge of those high duties, as was more formally announced at a later day, on the publication of this general order.
After thus directing Gen. McClellan's efforts more particularly to the management of the Army of the Potomae, the President soon found it expedient to concentrate that officer's thoughts upon some definite plan—which had evidently been not very clearly before his mind hitherto—for rendering this great force of practical service to the Government. Consequently, four days later, the following order was communicated to McClellan:
l t Executive Mansion, Washington, ")
January 31, 1862. J
Ordered, That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomae, after providing safely for the defense of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad south-westward 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.
Immediately after receiving this order, Gen. McClellan prepared a long letter to Mr. Stanton, (dated January 31, 1862,) in which'he set forth his objections to this movement, and vehemently urged the substitution of a plan of advance upon Richmond by the Lower Rappahannock, with Urbana as a base. He insists that a movement by Manassas must be delayed on account of the bad condition of the roads, and that this difficulty would be removed by taking the route he proposes, over a more sandy soil, and in a latitude in which tho season is two or three weeks earlier. "This movement, if adopted," he says, "will not at all expose the city of Washington to danger. The total foroe to be thrown upon the new line would be (according to circumstances) from 110,000 to
140,000. I hope to use the latter number by bringing fresh troops into Washington, and still leaving it quite safe." The maximum number here stated would still leave moro than 60,000 for the defense of Washington, without additional "fresh troops." Gen. McClellan closes this letter with the following earnest appeal:
In conclusion, I would respectfully but firmly advisa that I may be authorized to undertake at once the movement by Urbana. I believe that it can be carried into execution so nearly simultaneously with the final advance of Buell and Halleck, that the columns will support each other. I will stake my life, my reputation, on the result,—more than that, I will stake upon it the success of our cause. I hope but little from the attack on Manassas. My judgment is against it. Foreign complications may entirely change the state of affairs, and render very different plans necessary. In that event, I will be ready to submit to them.
On the 3d of February, President Lincoln addressed to Gen. McClellan the following memorable letter, having reference to the Urbana plan, scarcely more than alluded to by McClellan in his final report, and seemingly as unceremoniously abandoned, after serving a purpose, as it had been zealously improvised:
Executive Mansion, Washington, >
My Dear Sir: You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac; yours to be done by 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 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 mine?
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?
Tours, truly, A. Lincoln.
These plain test questions were never direotly met. In a long letter of the same date, however, addressed to the Secretary of War, arguing the merits of the two plans, Gen. McClellan avers that he "substantially answered" the President's inquiries. The subject remained for some time under consideration, the President's order not withdrawn, but its execution suspended, while McClellan at length proceeded to the work of opening the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, under urgent pressure from his superiors.
On the 26th of February, he announced, from Sandy Hook, that TiOudon and Bolivar Heights, and also Maryland Heights, had been occupied by our troops, and that 6. W. Smith was expected at Winchester with 15,000 Rebels. After incurring much cost and delay in the construction of canal boats to be used in crossing the Upper Potomae, he now found, on proceeding to use them, a considerable force intended for Winchester being already under orders, that, as he expressed it in a dispatch to the Secretary of War, Feb. 27th, "the lift-lock" was "too small" to permit the boats to pass up to their destination. Mr. Stanton sent this laconic reply, under the same date: "Gen. McClellan — If the lift-lock is not big enough, why can not it be made big enough? Please answer immediately." The response was, that, to do this, the entire masonry must be destroyed and rebuilt. Consequently, the boats, long patiently waited for, were summarily dispensed with, and . the marching orders countermanded. At the same time, for reasons satisfactory to himself, McClellan revoked an order he had given to Hooker, for a movement toward silencing the Rebel batteries on the Potomae, which had also been earnestly pressed by the Administration. His plan at Harper's Ferry, as stated Feb. 28, was chiefly "to occupy Charlestown and Bunker Hill, so as to cover the rebuilding of the railway," making the following objections to the desired advance upon