Report of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, U. S. Army,
commanding the Army of the Potomac (Part 2)
No.1--Extract, embracing the "First Period," from Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's report of the operations of the Army of the Potomac from July 27, 1861, to November 9, 1862.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 5 [S# 5]
On the 15th of October the main body of the Army of the Potomac was in the immediate vicinity of Washington, with detachments on the left bank of the Potomac as far down a.s Liverpool Point and as far up as Williamsport and its vicinity. The different divisions were posted as follows: Hooker at Budd's Ferry, Lower Potomac; Heintzelman at Fort Lyon and vicinity; Franklin near the Theological Seminary; Blenker near Hunter's Chapel; McDowell at Upton's Hill and Arlington; F.J. Porter at Hall's and Miner's Hills; Smith at Mackall's Hill; McCall at Langley; Buell at Tennallytown, Meridian Hill, Emory's Chapel, &c., on the left bank of the river; Casey at Washington; Stone-man's cavalry at Washington; Hunt's artillery at Washington; Banks at Darnestown, with detachments at Point of Rocks, Sandy Hook, Williamsport, &c.; Stone at Poolesville, and Dix at Baltimore, with detachments on the Eastern Shore.
On the 19th of October, 1861, General McCall marched to Dranesville with his division, in order to cover reconnaissances to be made in all directions the next day, for the purpose of learning the position of the enemy and of covering the operations of the topographical engineers in making maps of that region.
On the 20th, acting in concert with General McCall, General Smith pushed strong parties to Freedom Hill, Vienna, Flint Hill, Peacock Hill, &c., to accomplish the same purpose in that part of the front. These reconnaissances were successful.
On the morning of the 20th I received the following telegram from General Banks' headquarters:
DARNESTOWN, October 20, 1861.
SIR: The signal station at Sugar Loaf telegraphs that the enemy have moved away from Leesburg. All quiet here.
R. M. COPELAND,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
Whereupon I sent to General Stone, at Poolesville, the following telegram:
CAMP GRIFFIN, October 20, 1861.
General McClellan desires me to inform you that General McCall occupied Dranesville yesterday and is still there. Will send out heavy reconnaissances to-day in all directions from that point. The general desires that you will keep a good lookout upon Leesburg, to see if this movement has the effect to drive them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.
A. V. COLBURN,
Brig. Gen. C. P. STONE,
Deeming it possible that General McCall's movement to Dranesville, together with the subsequent reconnaissances, might have the effect of inducing the enemy to abandon Leesburg, and the dispatch from Sugar Loaf appearing to confirm this view, I wished General Stone, who had only a line of pickets on the river--the mass of his troops being out of sight of and beyond range from the Virginia bank--to make some display of an intention to cross, and also to watch the enemy more closely than usual. I did not direct him to cross, nor did I intend that he should cross the river in force for the purpose of fighting.
The above dispatch was sent on the 20th, and reached General Stone as early as 11 a.m. of that day. I expected him to accomplish all that was intended on the same day; and this he did, as will be seen from the following dispatch, received at my headquarters in Washington from Poolesville on the evening of October 20:
Made a feint of crossing at this place this afternoon, and at the same time started a reconnoitering party towards Leesburg from Harrison's Island. The enemy's pickets retired to intrenchments. Report of reconnoitering party not yet received. I have means of crossing 125 men once in ten minutes at each of two points. River falling slowly.
As it was not foreseen or expected that General McCall would be needed to co-operate with General Stone in any attack, he was directed to fall back from Dranesville to his original camp, near Prospect Hill, as soon as the required reconnaissances were completed. Accordingly he left Dranesville on his return at about 8.30 a.m. of the 21st, reaching his old camp at about 1 p.m.
In the mean time I was surprised to hear from General Stone that a portion of his troops were engaged on the Virginia side of the river, and at once sent instructions to General McCall to remain at Dranesville, if he had not left before the order reached him. The order did not reach him until his return to his camp at Langley. He was then ordered to rest his men and hold his division in readiness to return to Dranesville at a moment's notice, should it become necessary. Similar instructions were given to other divisions during the afternoon.
The first intimation I received from General Stone of the real nature of his movements was in a telegram, as follows:
EDWARDS FERRY, October 21--11.10 a.m.
The enemy have been engaged opposite Harrison's Island; our men behaving admirably.
C. P. STONE,
At 2 p.m. General Banks' adjutant-general sent the following:
DARNESTOWN, October 21, 1861--2 p.m.
General R. B. MARCY:
General Stone safely crossed the river this morning. Some engagements have taken place on the other side of the river; how important is not known.
R. M. COPELAND,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
General Stone sent the following dispatches on the same day at the hours indicated:
EDWARDS FERRY, October 21, 1861--2 p.m.
There has been sharp firing on the right of our line, and our troops appear to be advancing there under Baker. The left, under Gorman, has advanced its skirmishers nearly 1 mile, and, if the movement continues successful, will turn the enemy's right.
C. P. STONE,
Brigadier. Genera l.
EDWARDS FERRY, October 21, 1861--4 p.m.
Nearly all my force is across the river. Baker on the right; Gorman on the left. Right sharply engaged.
C. P. STONE,
EDWARDS FERRY, October 21, 1861--9.30 p.m.
I am occupied in preventing further disaster, and try to get into a position to redeem. We have lost some of our best commanders--Baker dead, Cogswell a prisoner or secreted. The wounded are being carefully and rapidly removed, and Gorman's wing is being cautiously withdrawn. Any advance from Dranesville must be made cautiously.
All was reported going well up to Baker's death, but in the confusion following that, the right wing was outflanked. In a few hours I shall, unless a night attack is made, be in the same position as last night, save the loss of many good men.
C. P. STONE,
Although no more fully informed of the state of affairs, I had during the afternoon, as a precautionary measure, ordered General Banks to send one brigade to the support of the troops at Harrison's Island, and to move with the other two to Seneca Mill: ready to support General Stone if necessary. The 9.30 p.m. dispatch of General Stone did not give me an entire understanding of the state of the case.
Aware of the difficulties and perhaps fatal consequences of recrossing such a river as the Potomac after a repulse, and from these telegrams supposing his whole force to be on the Virginia side, I directed General Stone to intrench himself, and hold the Virginia side at all hazards until re-enforcements could arrive, when he could safely withdraw to the Maryland side or hold his position on the Virginia side, should that prove advisable. General Banks was instructed to move the rest of his division to Edwards Ferry, and to send over as many men as possible before daylight to re-enforce Stone. He did not arrive in time to effect this, and was instructed to collect all the canal-boats he could find and use them for crossing at Edwards Ferry in sufficient force to enable the troops already there to hold the opposite side.
On the 22d I went to the ground in person, and reaching Poolesville, learned for the first time the full details of the affair.
The following extract from the evidence of General Stone before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, on the 5th of January, 1862, will throw further light on this occurrence:
General Stone says he received the order from my headquarters to make a slight demonstration at about 11 a.m. on the 20th, and that, in obedience to that order, he made the demonstration on the evening of the same day.
In regard to the reconnaissance on the 21st, which resulted in the battle of Ball's Bluff, he was asked the following questions:
Question. Did this reconnaissance originate with yourself or had you orders from the General-in-Chief to make it?
To which he replied: "It originated with myself--the reconnaissance."
Question. The order did not proceed from General McClellan?
Answer. I was directed the day before to make a demonstration; that demonstration was made the day previous.
Question. Did you receive an order from the General-in-Chief to make the reconnaissance?
Answer. No, sir.
Making a personal examination on the 23d, I found that the position on the Virginia side at Edwards Ferry was not a tenable one, but did not think it wise to withdraw the troops by daylight. I therefore caused more artillery to be placed in position on the Maryland side to cover the approaches to the ground held by us, and crossed the few additional troops theft the high wind permitted us to get over, so as to be as secure as possible against any attack during the day. Before nightfall all the precautions were taken to secure an orderly and quiet passage of the troops and guns. The movement was commenced soon after dark, under the personal supervision of General Stone, who received the order for the withdrawal at 7.15 p.m. By 4 a.m. of the 24th everything had reached the Maryland shore in safety.
A few days afterward I received information, which seemed to be authentic, to the effect that large bodies of the enemy had been ordered from Manassas to Leesburg to cut off our troops on the Virginia side. Their timely withdrawal had probably prevented a still more serious disaster.
I refer to General Stone's report of this battle, furnished the War Department, and his published testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, for further details.
The records of the War Department show my anxiety and efforts to assume active offensive operations in the fall and early winter. It is only just to say, however, that the unprecedented condition of the roads and Virginia soil would have delayed an advance until February, had the discipline, organization, and equipment of the Army been as complete at the close of the fall as was necessary, and as I desired and labored against every impediment to make them.
While still in command only of the Army of the Potomac--namely, in early September--I proposed the formation of a corps of New Englanders for coast service in the bays and inlets of the Chesapeake and Potomac, to co-operate with my own command, from which most of its material was drawn.
On the 1st of November, however, I was called to relieve Lieutenant-General Scott in the chief and general command of the armies of the Union. The direction and nature of this coast expedition, therefore, were somewhat changed, as will soon appear in the original plan submitted to the Secretary of War and the letter of instructions later issued to General Burnside, its commander. The whole country, indeed, had now become the theater of military operations from the Potomac to beyond the Mississippi, and to assist the Navy in perfecting and sustaining the blockade it became necessary to extend these operations to points on the sea-coast, Roanoke Island, Savannah, and New Orleans. It remained also to equip and organize the armies of the West, whose condition was little better than that of the Army of the Potomac had been. The direction of the campaigns in the West and of the operations on the seaboard enabled me to enter upon larger combinations and to accomplish results the necessity and advantage of which had not been unforeseen, but which had been beyond the ability of the single army formerly under my command to effect.
The following letters and a subsequent paper, addressed to the Secretary of War, sufficiently indicate the nature of those combinations to minds accustomed to reason upon military operations:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Washington, September 6, 1861.
Hon. SIMON CAMERON, Secretary of War.
SIR: I have the honor to suggest the following proposition, with the request that the necessary authority be at once given me to carry it out----to organize a force of two brigades, of five regiments each, of New England men, for the general service, but particularly adapted to coast service, the officers and men to be sufficiently- conversant with boat service to manage steamers, sailing vessels, launches, barges, surf-boats, floating batteries, &c.; to charter or buy for the command a sufficient number of propellers or tug-boats for transportation of men and supplies, the machinery of which should be amply protected by timber; the vessels to have permanent experienced officers from the merchant service, but to be manned by details from the command; a naval officer to be attached to the staff of the commanding officer; the flank companies of each regiment to be armed with Dahlgren boat guns and carbines with waterproof cartridges; the other companies to have such arms as I may hereafter designate; to be uniformed and equipped as the Rhode Island regiments are; launches and floating batteries with timber parapets of sufficient capacity to land or bring into action the entire force. The entire management and organization of the force to be under my control, and to form an integral part of the Army of the Potomac.
The immediate object of this force is for operations in the inlets of Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac. By enabling me thus to land troops at points where they are needed, this force can also be used in conjunction with a naval force operating against points on the sea-coast. This coast division to be commanded by a general officer of my selection; the regiments to be organized as other land forces; the disbursements for vessels, &c., to be made by the proper department of the Army upon the requisitions of the general commanding the division, with my approval.
I think the entire force can be organized in thirty days, and by no means file least of the advantages of this proposition is the fact that it will call into the service a class of men who would not otherwise enter the Army.
You will immediately perceive that the object of this force is to follow along the coast and up the inlets and rivers the movements of the main army when it advances.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Owing chiefly to the difficulty in procuring the requisite vessels and adapting them to the special purposes contemplated, this expedition was not ready for service until January, 1862. Then in the chief command, I deemed it best to send it to North Carolina, with the design indicated in the following letter:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, January 7, 1862.
GENERAL: In accordance with verbal instructions heretofore given you, you will, after uniting with Flag-Officer Goldsborough, at Fort Monroe, proceed under his convoy to Hatteras Inlet, where you will, in connection with him, take the most prompt measures for crossing the fleet over the bulkhead into the waters of the sound. Under the accompanying general order, constituting the Department of North Carolina, you will assume command of the garrison at Hatteras Inlet, and make such dispositions in regard to that place as your ulterior operations may render necessary, always being careful to provide for the safety of that very important station in any contingency.
Your first point of attack will be Roanoke Island and its dependencies. It is presumed that the Navy can reduce the batteries on the marshes and cover the landing of your troops on the main island, by which, in connection with a rapid movement of the gunboats to the northern extremity as soon as the marsh battery is reduced, it may be hoped to capture the entire garrison of the place. Having occupied the island and its dependencies, you will at once proceed to the erection of the batteries and defenses necessary to hold the position with a small force. Should the flag-officer require any assistance in seizing or holding the debouches of the canal from Norfolk, you will please afford it to him.
The commodore and yourself having completed your arrangements in regard to Roanoke Island and the waters north of it, you will please at once make a descent on New Berne, having gained possession of which and the railroad passing through it, you will at once throw a sufficient force upon Beaufort, and take the steps necessary to reduce Fort Macon and open that port. When you seize New Berne, you will endeavor to seize the railroad as far west as Goldsborough, should circumstances favor such a movement. The temper of the people, the rebel force at hand, &c., will go far towards determining the question as to how far west the railroad can be safely occupied and held; Should circumstances render it advisable to seize and hold Raleigh, the main north and south line of railroad passing through Goldsborough should be so effectually destroyed for considerable distances north and south of that point as to render it impossible for the rebels to use it to your disadvantage. A great point would be gained, in any event, by the effectual destruction of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad.
I would advise great caution in moving so far into the interior as upon Raleigh. Having accomplished the objects mentioned, the next point of interest would probably be Wilmington, the reduction of which may require that additional means shall be afforded you. I would urge great caution in regard to proclamations. In no case would I go beyond a moderate joint proclamation with the naval commander, which should say as little as possible about, politics or the negro; merely state that, the true issue for which we are fighting is the preservation of the Union and upholding the laws of the General Government, and stating all who conduct themselves properly will, as far as possible, be protected in their persons and property.
You will please report your operations as often as an opportunity offers itself.
With my best wishes for your success, I am, &c.,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General, Commanding in Chief.
Brig. Gen. A. E. BURNSIDE,
The following letters of instruction were sent to Generals Halleck, Buell, Sherman, and Butler; and I also communicated verbally to these officers my views in full regarding the field of operations assigned to each, and gave them their instructions as much in detail as was necessary at that time:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, D.C., November 11, 1861.
GENERAL: In assigning you to the command of the Department of the Missouri, it is probably unnecessary for me to state that I have intrusted to you a duty which requires the utmost tact and decision. You have not merely the ordinary duties of a military commander to perform, but the far more difficult task of reducing chaos to order, of changing probably the majority of the personnel of the staff of the department, and of reducing to a point of economy, consistent with the interests and necessities of the State, a system of reckless expenditure and fraud, perhaps unheard-of before in the history of the world.
You will find in your department many general and staff officers holding illegal commissions and appointments not recognized or approved by the President or Secretary of War. You will please at once inform these gentlemen of the nullity of their appointment, and see that no pay or allowances are issued to them until such time as commissions may be authorized by the President or Secretary of War.
If any of them give the slightest trouble, you will at once arrest them and send them, under guard, out of the limits of your department, informing them that if they return they will be placed in close confinement. You will please examine into the legality of the organization of the troops serving in the department. When you find any illegal, unusual, or improper organizations, you will give to the officers and men an opportunity to enter the legal military establishment under general laws and orders from the War Department, reporting in full to these headquarters any officer or organization that may decline.
You will please cause competent and reliable staff officers to examine all existing contracts immediately, and suspend all payments upon them until you receive the report in each case. Where there is the slightest doubt as to the propriety of the contract, you will be good enough to refer the matter with full explanation to these headquarters, stating in each case what would be a fair compensation for the services or materials rendered under the contract. Discontinue at once the reception of material or services under any doubtful contract. Arrest and bring to prompt trial all officers who have in any way violated their duty to the Government. In regard to the political conduct of affairs, you will please labor to impress upon the inhabitants of Missouri and the adjacent States that we are fighting solely for the integrity of the Union, to uphold the power of our National Government, and to restore to the nation the blessings of peace and good order.
With respect to military operations, it is probable, from the best information in my possession, that the interests of the Government will be best served by fortifying and holding in considerable strength Rolla, Sedalia, and other interior points, keeping strong patrols constantly moving from the terminal stations, and concentrating the mass of the troops on or near the Mississippi, prepared for such ulterior operations as the public interests may demand.
I would be glad to have you make, as soon as possible, a personal inspection of all the important points in your department, and report the result to me. I cannot too strongly impress upon you the absolute necessity of keeping me constantly advised of the strength, condition, and location of your troops, together with all facts that will unable me to maintain that general direction of the armies of the United States which it is my purpose to exercise. I trust to you to maintain thorough organization, discipline, and economy throughout your department. Please inform me as soon as possible of everything relating to the gunboats now in process of construction, as well as those completed.
The militia force authorized to be raised by the State of Missouri for its defense will be under your orders.
I am, general, &c.,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN. Major-General,
Commanding U. S. Army.
Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK,
U.S. A., Comdg. Dep't of Missouri.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, November 7, 1861.
GENERAL: In giving you instructions for your guidance in command of the Department of the Ohio, I do not design to fetter you. I merely wish to express plainly the general ideas which occur to me in relation to the conduct of operations there. That portion of Kentucky west of the Cumberland River is by its position so closely related to the States of Illinois and Missouri, that it has seemed best to attach it to the Department of the Missouri. Your operations, then (in Kentucky), will be confined to that portion of the State east of the Cumberland River. I trust I need not repeat to you that I regard the importance of the territory committed to your care as second only to that occupied by the army under my immediate command. It is absolutely necessary that we shall hold all the State of Kentucky; not only that, but that the
Majority of its inhabitants shall be warmly in favor of our cause, it being that which best subserves their interests. It is possible that the conduct of our political affairs in Kentucky is more important than that of our military operations. I certainly cannot overestimate the importance of the former. You will please constantly bear in mind the precise issue for which we are fighting. That issue is the preservation of the Union and the restoration of the full authority of the General Government over all portions of our territory. We shall most readily suppress this rebellion and restore the authority of the Government by religiously respecting the constitutional rights of all. I know that I express the feelings and opinions of the President when I say that we are fighting only to preserve the integrity of the Union and the constitutional authority of the General Government.
The inhabitants of Kentucky may rely upon it that their domestic institutions will in no manner be interfered with, and that they will receive at our hands every constitutional protection. I have only to repeat that you will in all respects carefully regard the local institutions of the region in which you command, allowing nothing but the dictates of military necessity to cause you to depart from the spirit of these instructions.
So much in regard to political considerations.
The military problem would be a simple one could it be entirely separated from political influences. Such is not the case. Were the population among which you are to operate wholly or generally hostile, it is probable that Nashville should be your first and principal objective point. It so happens that a large majority of the inhabitants of Eastern Tennessee are in favor of the Union. It therefore seems proper that you should remain on the defensive on the line from Louisville to Nashville, while you throw the mass of your forces by rapid marches, by Cumberland Gap or Walker's Gap, on Knoxville, in order to occupy the railroad at that point, and thus enable the loyal citizens of Eastern Tennessee to rise, while you at the same time cut off the railway communication between Eastern Virginia and the Mississippi. It will be prudent to fortify the pass before leaving it in your rear.
Brig. Gen. D.C. BUELL.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, November 12, 1861.
GENERAL: Upon assuming command of the department I will be glad to have you make as soon as possible a careful report of the condition and situation of your troops and of the military and political condition of your command. The main point to which I desire to call your attention is the necessity of entering Eastern Tennessee as soon as it can be done with reasonable chances of success, and I hope that you will, with the least possible delay, organize a column for that purpose, sufficiently guarding at the same time the main avenues by which the rebels may invade Kentucky. Our conversations on the subject of military operations have been so full and my confidence in your judgment is so great, that I will not dwell further upon the subject, except to urge upon you the necessity of keeping me fully informed as to the state of affairs, both military and political, and your movements. In regard to political matters, bear in mind that we are fighting only to preserve the integrity of the Union and to uphold the power of the General Government. As far as military necessity will permit religiously respect the constitutional rights of all Preserve the strictest discipline among the troops, and while employing the utmost energy in military movements, be careful so to treat the unarmed inhabitants as to contract, not widen, the breach existing between us and the rebels.
I mean by this that it is the desire of the Government to avoid unnecessary irritation by causeless arrests and persecution of individuals. Where there is good reason to believe that persons are actually giving aid, comfort,, or information to the enemy, it is of course necessary to arrest them; but I have always found that it is the tendency of subordinates to make vexatious arrests on mere suspicion. You will find it well to direct that no arrest shall be made except by your order or that of your generals, unless in extraordinary cases, always holding the party making the arrest responsible for the propriety of his course. It should be our constant aim to make it apparent to all that their property, their comfort, and their personal safety will be best preserved by adhering to the cause of the Union.
If the military suggestions I have made in this letter prove to have been founded on erroneous data you are of course perfectly free to change the plans of operations.
Brig. Gen. D.C. BUELL,
Comdg. Dep't of the Ohio.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, February 14, 1862.
General: Your dispatches in regard to the occupation of Dawfuskie Island, &c., were received to-day. I saw also to-day, for the first time, your requisition for a siege train for Savannah.
After giving the subject all the consideration in my power, I am forced to the conclusion that, under present circumstances, the siege and capture of Savannah do not promise results commensurate with the sacrifices necessary. When I learned that it was possible for the gunboats to reach the Savannah River above Fort Pulaski, two operations suggested themselves to my mind as its immediate results: First. The capture of Savannah by a coup de main--the result of an instantaneous advance and attack by the Army and Navy.
The time for this has passed, and your letter indicates that you are not accountable for the failure to seize the propitious moment, but that, on the contrary, you perceived its advantages.
Second. To isolate Fort Pulaski, cut off its supplies, and at least facilitate its reduction by a bombardment. Although we have a long delay to deplore, the second course still remains open to us; and I strongly advise a close blockade of Pulaski, and its bombardment as soon as the 13-inch mortars and heavy guns reach you. I am confident you can thus reduce it. With Pulaski you gain all that is really essential; you obtain complete control of the harbor; you relieve the blockading fleet, and render the main body of. your force disposable for other operations.
I do not consider the possession of Savannah worth a siege after Pulaski is in our. hands. But the possession of Pulaski is of the first importance. The expedition to Fernandina is well, and I shall be glad to learn that it is ours. But, after all, the greatest moral effect would be produced by the reduction of Charleston and its defenses. There the rebellion had its birth; there the uunatural hatred of our Government is most intense; there is the center of the boasted power and courage of the rebels.
To gain Fort Sumter and hold Charleston a task well worthy of our greatest efforts and considerable sacrifices. That is the problem I would be glad to have you study. Some time must elapse before we can be in all respects ready to accomplish that purpose. Fleets are en route and armies in motion which have certain preliminary objects to accomplish before we are ready to take Charleston in hand, but the time will before long arrive when I shall be prepared to make that movement. In the mean time it is my advice and wish that no attempt be made upon Savannah, unless it can be carried with certainty by a coup de main. Please concentrate your attention and forces upon Pulaski and Fernandina. Saint Augustine might as well be taken by way of an interlude, while awaiting the preparations for Charleston. Success attends us everywhere at present.
Very truly, yours,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General, Commanding U. S. Army.
Brig. Gen. T. W. SHERMAN,
Comdg. at Port Royal, &c.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, February 23, 1862.
GENERAL: You are assigned to the command of the land forces destined to co-operate with the Navy in the attacks upon New Orleans. You will use every means to keep your destination a profound secret, even from your staff officers, with the exception of your chief of staff and Lieutenant Weitzel, of the Engineers. The force at your disposal will consist of the first thirteen regiments named in your memorandum handed to me in person, the Twenty-first Indiana, Fourth Wisconsin, and Sixth Michigan (old and good regiments from Baltimore).
The Twenty-first Indiana, Fourth Wisconsin, and Sixth Michigan will await your orders at Fort Monroe.
Two companies of the Twenty-first Indiana are well drilled as heavy artillery. The cavalry force already en route for Ship Island will be sufficient for your purposes.
After full consultation with officers well acquainted with the country in which it is proposed to operate, I have arrived at the conclusion that two light batteries fully equipped and one without horses will be all that are necessary. This will make your force about 14,400 infantry, 275 cavalry, 580 artillery; total, 15,255 men The commanding general of the Department of Key West is authorized to loan you, temporarily, two regiments; Fort Pickens can, probably, give you another, which will bring your force to near 18,000.
The object of your expedition is one of vital importance---the capture of New Orleans. The route selected is up the Mississippi River, and the first obstacle to be encountered (perhaps the only one) is in the resistance offered by Forts Saint Philip and Jackson. It is expected that the Navy can reduce these works; in that case you will, after their capture, leave a sufficient garrison in them to render them perfectly secure; and it is recommended that, on the upward passage, a few heavy guns and some troops be left at the pilot station (at the forks of the river) to cover a retreat in the event of a disaster. These troops and guns will of course be removed as soon as the forts are captured. Should the Navy fail to reduce the works, you will land your forces and siege train, and endeavor to breach the works, silence their fire, and carry them by assault.
The next resistance will be near the English Bend, where there are some earthen batteries. Here it may be necessary for you to land your troops and co-operate with the naval attack, although it is more than probable that the Navy unassisted can accomplish the result. If these works are taken, the city of New Orleans necessarily falls. In that event, it will probably be best to occupy Algiers with the mass of your troops, also the eastern bank of the river above the city. It may be necessary to place some troops in the city to preserve order, but if there appears to be sufficient Union sentiment to control the city, it may be best for purposes of discipline to keep your men out of the city.
After obtaining possession of New Orleans, it will be necessary to reduce all the works guarding its approaches from the east, and particularly to gain the Manchac Pass.
Baton Rouge, Berwick Bay, and Fort Livingston will next claim your attention.
A feint on Galveston may facilitate the objects we have in view. I need not call your attention to the necessity of gaining possession of all the rolling stock you can on the different railways and of obtaining control of the roads themselves. The occupation of Baton Rouge by a combined naval and land force should be accomplished as soon as possible after you have gained New Orleans. Then endeavor to open your communication with the northern column by the Mississippi, always bearing in mind the necessity of occupying Jackson, Miss., as soon as you can safely do so, either after or before you have effected the junction. Allow nothing to divert you from obtaining full possession of all the approaches to New Orleans. When that object is accomplished to its fullest extent, it will be necessary to make a combined attack on Mobile, in order to gain possession of the harbor and works, as well as to control the railway terminus at the city. In regard to this I will send more detailed instructions as the operations of the northern column develop themselves.
I may briefly state that the general objects of the expedition are, first the reduction of New Orleans and all its approaches; then Mobile and its defenses; then Pensacola, Galveston, &c. It is probable that by the time New Orleans is reduced it will be in the power of the Government to re-enforce the land forces sufficiently to accomplish all these objects. In the mean time you will please give all the assistance in your power to the army and navy commanders in your vicinity, never losing sight of the fact that the great object to be achieved is the capture and lima retention of New Orleans.
I am, &c.,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General, Commanding U. S. Army.
Maj. Gen. B. F. BUTLER,
The plan indicated in the above letters comprehended in its scope the operations of all the armies of the Union, the Army of the Potomac as well. It was my intention, for reasons easy to be seen, that its various parts should be carried out simultaneously, or nearly so, and in co-operation along the whole line. If this plan was wise, and events have failed to prove that it was not, then it is unnecessary to defend any delay which would have enabled the Army of the Potomac to perform its share in the execution of the whole work. But about the middle of January, 1862, upon recovering from a severe illness, I found that excessive anxiety for an immediate movement of the Army of the Potomac had taken possession of the minds of the administration. A change had just been made in the War Department, and I was soon urged by the new Secretary, Mr. Stanton, to take immediate steps to secure the reopening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and to free the banks of the Lower Potomac from the rebel batteries, which annoyed passing vessels. Very soon after his entrance upon office I laid before him verbally my design as to the part of the plan of campaign to be executed by the Army of the Potomac, which was to attack Richmond by the Lower Chesapeake. He instructed me to develop it to the President, which I did. The result was that the President disapproved it, and by an order of January 31, 1862, substituted one of his own. On the 27th of January, 1862, the following order was issued, without consultation with me:
PRESIDENT'S GENERAL WAR ORDER, No. 1
Washington, January 27, 1862.
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 Potomac; the Army of Western Virginia; the army near Munfordville, Ky.; 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 reply 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 prompt execution of this order.
The order of January 31, 1862, was as follows:
PRESIDENT'S SPECIAL WAR ORDER, No. 1
Washington, January 31, 1862.
Ordered, That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac, 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 southwestward 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 22d day of February next.
I asked his excellency whether this order was to be regarded as final, or whether I could be permitted to submit in writing my objections to his plan and my reasons for preferring my own. Permission was accorded, and I therefore prepared the letter to the Secretary of War which is given below.
Before this had been submitted to the President he addressed me the following note:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, Washington, February 3, 1862.
MY DEAR SIR: You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac--yours to be down 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 railroads southwest of Manassas.
If you will give me 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?
These questions were substantially answered by the following letter of the same date to the Secretary of War:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, February 3, 1862.
SIR: I ask your indulgence for the following paper, rendered necessary by circumstances.
I assumed command of the troops in the vicinity of Washington on Saturday, July 27, 1861. six days after the battle of Bull Run.
I found no army to command--a mere collection of regiments cowering on the banks of the Potomac, some perfectly raw, others dispirited by the recent defeat.
Nothing of any consequence had been done to secure the southern approaches to the capital by means of defensive works; nothing whatever had been undertaken to defend the avenues to the city on the northern side of the Potomac. The troops were not only undisciplined, undrilled, and dispirited; they were not even placed in military positions. The city was almost in a condition to have been taken by a dash of a regiment of cavalry.
Without one day's delay I undertook the difficult task assigned to me; that task the honorable Secretary knows was given to me without my solicitation or foreknowledge. How far I have accomplished it will best be shown by the past and the present.
The capital is secure against attack, the extensive fortifications erected by the labor of our troops enable a small garrison to hold it against a numerous army, the enemy have been held in check, the State of Maryland is securely in our possession, the detached counties of Virginia are again within the pale of our laws, and all apprehension of trouble in Delaware is at an end; the enemy are confined to the positions they occupied before the disaster of the 21st July. More than all this, I have now under my command a well-drilled and reliable army, to which the destinies of the country may be confidently committed. This army is young and untried in battle, but it is animated by the highest spirit and is capable of great deeds.
That so much has been accomplished, and such an army created in so short a time from nothing, will hereafter be regarded as one of the highest glories of the administration and the nation.
Many weeks, I may say many months, ago, this Army of the Potomac was fully in condition to repel any attack; but there is a vast difference between that and the efficiency required to enable troops to attack successfully an army elated by victory and intrenched in a position long since selected, studied, and fortified.
In the earliest papers I submitted to the President I asked for an effective and movable force far exceeding the aggregate now on the banks of the Potomac. I have not the force I asked for.
Even when in a subordinate position I always looked beyond the operations of the Army of the Potomac. I was never satisfied in my own mind with a barren victory, but looked to combined and decisive operations. When I was placed in command of the Armies of the United States I immediately turned my attention to the whole field of operations, regarding the Army of the Potomac as only one, while the most important, of the masses under my command. I confess that I did not then appreciate the total absence of a general plan which had before existed, nor did I know that utter disorganization and want of preparation pervaded the Western armies. I took it for granted that they were nearly, if not quite, in condition to move towards the fulfillment of my plans. I acknowledge that I made a great mistake.
I sent at once, with the approval of the Executive, officers I considered competent to command in Kentucky and Missouri. Their instructions looked to prompt movements. I soon found that the labor of creation and organization had to be performed there; transportation, arms, clothing, artillery, discipline, all were wanting. These things required time to procure them.
The generals in command have done their work most creditably, but we are still delayed. I had hoped that a general advance could be made during the good weather of December. I was mistaken. My wish was to gain possession of the Eastern Tennessee Railroad as a preliminary movement, then to follow it up immediately by an attack on Nashville and Richmond, as nearly at the same time as possible.
I have ever regarded our true policy as being that of fully preparing ourselves, and then seeking for the most decisive results. I do not wish to waste life in useless battles, but prefer to strike at the heart.
Two bases of operation seem to present themselves for the advance of the Army of the Potomac:
I. That of Washington--its present position--involving a direct attack upon the intrenched positions of the enemy at Centreville, Manassas, &c., or else a movement to turn one or both flanks of those positions, or a combination of the two plans.
The relative force of the two armies will not justify an attack on both flanks; an attack on his left flank alone involves a long line of wagon communication, and cannot prevent him from collecting for the decisive battle all the detachments now on his extreme right and left.
Should we attack his right flank by the line of the Occoquan, and a crossing of the Potomac below that river, and near his batteries, we could perhaps prevent the junction of the enemy's right with his center (we might destroy the former); we would remove the obstructions to the navigation of the Potomac, reduce the length of wagon transportation by establishing new depots at the nearest points of the Potomac, and strike more directly his main railway communication.
The fords of the Occoquan below the mouth of the Bull Run are watched by the rebels; batteries are said to be placed on the heights in the rear (concealed by the woods), and the arrangement of his troops is such that he can oppose some considerable resistance to a passage of that stream. Information has just been received to the effect that the enemy are intrenching a line of heights extending from the vicinity of Songster's (Union Mills) towards Evansport. Early in January Spriggs' Ford was occupied by General Redes with 3,600 men and eight guns. There are strong reasons for believing that Davis' Ford is occupied. These circumstances indicate or prove that the enemy anticipates the movement in question and is prepared to resist, it. Assuming for the present that this operation is determined upon, it may be well to examine briefly its probable progress. In the present state of affairs our column (for the movement of so large a force must be made in several columns, at, least five or six) can reach the Accotink without danger. During the march thence to the Occoquan our right flank becomes exposed to an attack from Fairfax Station, Sangster's, and Union Mills. This danger must be met by occupying in some force either the two first-named places, or, better, the point of junction of the roads leading thence to the village of Occoquan. This occupation must be continued so long as we continue to draw supplies by the roads from this city or until a battle is won.
The crossing of the Occoquan should be made at all the fords from Wolf Run to the mouth, the points of crossing not being necessarily confined to the fords themselves. Should the enemy occupy this line in force, we must, with what assistance the flotilla can afford, endeavor to three the passage near the mouth, thus forcing the enemy to abandon the whole line, or be taken in flank himself.
Having gained the line of the Occoquan, it would be necessary to throw a column by the shortest route to Dumfries, partly to force the enemy to abandon his batteries on the Potomac, partly to cover our left flank against an attack front the direction of Aquia, and lastly, to establish our communications with the river by the best roads, and thus give us new depots. The enemy would by this time have occupied the line of the Occoquan above Bull Run, holding Brentsville in force, and perhaps extending his lines somewhat farther to the southwest.
Our next step would then be to prevent the enemy from crossing the Occoquan between Bull Run and Broad Run, to fall upon our right flank while moving on Brentsville. This might be effected by occupying Bacon Race Church and the cross-roads near the mouth of Bull Run, or still more effectually by moving to the fords themselves, and preventing hint front debouching on our side.
These operations would possibly be resisted, and it would require some time to effect them, as nearly at the same time as possible we should gain the fords necessary to our purposes above Broad Run. Having secured our right flank, it would become necessary to carry Brentsville at any cost; for we could not leave it between our right flank and the main body. The final movement on the railroad must be determined by circumstances existing at the time.
This brief sketch brings out in bold relief the great advantage possessed by the enemy in the strong central position he occupies, with roads diverging in every direction, and a strong line of defense enabling him to remain on the defensive, with a small force on one flank, while he concentrates everything on the other for a decisive action.
Should we place a portion of our force in front of Centreville, while the rest crosses the Occoquan, we commit the error of dividing our army by a very difficult obstacle, and by a distance too great to enable the two parts to support each other, should either be attacked by the masses of the enemy while the other is held in check.
1 should perhaps have dwelt more decidedly on the fact that the force left near Sangster's must be allowed to remain somewhere on that side of the Occoquan until the decisive battle is over, so as to cover our retreat in the event of disaster, unless it should be decided to select and intrench a new base somewhere near Dumfries, a proceeding involving much time.
After the passage of the Occoquan by the main army, this covering force could be drawn into a more central and less exposed position--say Brimstone Hill or nearer the Occoquan. In this latitude the weather will for a considerable period be very uncertain, and a movement commenced in force on roads in tolerably firm condition will be liable, almost certain, to be much delayed by rains and snow. It will therefore be next to impossible to surprise the enemy or take him at a disadvantage by rapid maneuvers. Our slow progress will enable him to divine our purposes and take his measures accordingly. The probability is, from the best information we possess, that the enemy has improved the roads leading to his lines of defense, while we will have to work as we advance.
Bearing in mind what has been said, and the present unprecedented and impassable condition of the roads, it will be evident that no precise period can be fixed upon for the movement on this line, nor can its duration be closely calculated; it seems certain that many weeks may elapse before it is possible to commence the march. Assuming the success of this operation, and the defeat of the enemy as certain, the question at once arises as to the importance of the results gained. I think these results would be confined to the possession of the field of battle, the evacuation of the line of the Upper Potomac by the enemy, and the moral effect of the victory--important results, it is true, but not decisive of the war, nor securing the destruction of the enemy's main army; for he could fall back upon other positions and fight us again and again, should the condition of his troops permit. If he is in no condition to fight us again out of the range of the intrenchments at Richmond, we would find it a very difficult and tedious matter to follow him up there, for he would destroy his railroad bridges and otherwise impede our progress through a region where the roads are as bad as they well can be, and we would probably find ourselves forced at last to change the whole theater of war, or to seek a shorter land route to Richmond, with a smaller available force, and at an expenditure of much more time than were we to adopt the short line at once. We would also have forced the enemy to concentrate his forces and perfect his defensive measures at the very points where it is desirable to strike him when ]east prepared.
II. The second base of operations available for the Army of the Potomac is that of the Lower Chesapeake Bay, which affords the shortest possible land route to Richmond, and strikes directly at the heart of the enemy's power in the east.
The roads in that region are passable at all seasons of the year. The country now alluded to is much more favorable for offensive operations than that in front of Washington (which is very unfavorable), much more level, more cleared land, the woods less dense, the soil more sandy, and the spring some two or three weeks earlier. A movement in force on that line obliges the enemy to abandon his intrenched position at Manassas, in order to hasten to cover Richmond and Norfolk. He must do this; for should he permit us to occupy Richmond; his destruction can be averted only by entirely defeating us in battle, in which he must be the assailant. This movement, if successful, gives us the capital, the communications, the supplies of the rebels. Norfolk would fall, all the waters of the Chesapeake would be ours, all Virginia would be in our power, and the enemy forced to abandon Tennessee and North Carolina. The alternative presented to the enemy would be to beat us in a position selected by ourselves, disperse, or pass beneath the Candine Forks.
Should we be beaten in battle, we have a perfectly secure retreat down the Peninsula upon Fort Monroe, with our flanks perfectly covered by the fleet. During the whole movement our left flank is covered by the water. Our right is secure, for the reason that the enemy is too distant to reach us in time. He can only oppose us in front. We bring our fleet into full play.
After a successful battle our position would be: Burnside forming our left, Norfolk held securely; our center connecting Burnside with Buell, both by Raleigh and Lynchburg; Buell in Eastern Tennessee and North Alabama; Halleck at Nashville and Memphis. The next movement would be to connect with Sherman on the left, by reducing Wilmington and Charleston; to advance our center into South Carolina and Georgia; to push Buell either towards Montgomery or to unite with the main army in Georgia; to throw Halleck southward to meet the naval expedition from New Orleans. We should then be in a condition to reduce at our leisure all the Southern sea ports; to occupy all the avenues of communication; to use the great outlet of the Mississippi; to re-establish our Government and arms in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas; to force the slaves to labor for our subsistence instead of that of the rebels; to bid defiance to all foreign interference. Such is the object I have ever had in view; this is the general plan which I hope to accomplish.
For many long months I have labored to prepare the Army of the Potomac to play its part in the programme. From the day when I was placed in command of all our armies I have exerted myself to place all the other armies in such a condition that they, too, could perform their allotted duties.
Should it be determined to operate from the Lower Chesapeake, the point of landing which promises the most brilliant result is Urbana, on the Lower Rappahannock. This point is easily reached by vessels of heavy draught; it is neither occupied nor observed by the enemy; it is but one march from West Point, the key of that region, and thence but two marches to Richmond. A rapid movement from Urbana would probably cut off Magruder in the Peninsula, and enable us to occupy Richmond before it could be strongly re-enforced. Should we fail in that, we could, with the co-operation of the Navy, cross the James and throw ourselves in the rear of Richmond, thus forcing the enemy to come out and attack us, for his position would be untenable with us on the southern bank of the river. Should circumstances render it not advisable to land at Urbana, we can use Mob Jack Bay; or, the worst coming to 1he worst, we can take Fort Monroe as a base, and operate with complete security, although with less celerity and brilliancy of results, up the Peninsula.
To reach whatever point may be selected as a base a large amount of cheap water transportation must be collected, consisting mainly of canal-boats, barges, wood boats, schooners, &c., towed by small steamers, all of a very different character from those required for all previous expeditions. This can certainly be accomplished within thirty days from the time the order is given. I propose, as the best possible plan that can, in my judgment, be adopted, to select Urbana as a landing place for the first detachments; to transport by water four divisions of infantry with their batteries, the regular infantry, a few wagons, one bridge train, and a few squadrons of cavalry, making the vicinity of Hooker's position the place of embarkation for as many as possible; to move the regular cavalry and reserve artillery, the remaining bridge trains and wagons, to a point somewhere near Cape Lookout; then ferry them over the river by means of North River ferry-boats, march them over to the Rappahannock (covering the movement by an infantry force near Heathsville), and to cross the Rappahannock in a similar way. The expense and difficulty of the movement will then be very much diminished (a saving of transportation of about 10,000 horses), and the result none the less certain.
The concentration of the cavalry, &c., on the lower counties of Maryland can be effected without exciting suspicion, and the movement made without delay from that cause.
This movement, if adopted, will not at all expose the city of Washington to danger. The total force 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. I fully realize that in all projects offered time will probably be the most valuable consideration. It is my decided opinion that, in that point of view, the second plan should be adopted. It is possible, nay, highly probable, that the weather and state of the roads may be such as to delay the direct movement from Washington, with its unsatisfactory results and great risks, far beyond the time required to complete the second plan. In the first case we can fix no definite time for an advance. The roads have gone from bad to worse. Nothing like their present condition was ever known here before; they are impassable at present. We are entirely at the mercy of the weather. It is by no means certain that we can beat them at Manassas. On the other line I regard success as certain by all the chances of war. We demoralize the enemy by forcing him to abandon his prepared position for one which we have chosen, in which all in our favor, and where success must produce immense results.
My judgment as a general is clearly in favor of this project. Nothing is certain in war, but all the chances are in favor of this movement. So much am I in favor of the southern line of operations, that I would prefer the move from Fortress Monroe as a base as a certain though less brilliant movement than that from Urban to an attack upon Manassas.
I know that his excellency the President, you, and I all agree in our wishes, and that these wishes are to bring this war to a close as promptly as the means in our possession will permit. I believe that the mass of the people have entire confidence in us. I am sure of it. Let us then look only to the great result to be accomplished and disregard everything else.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
This letter must have produced some effect upon the mind of the President, since the execution of his order was not required, although it was not revoked as formally as it had been issued. Many verbal conferences ensued, in which, among other things, it was determined to collect as many canal-boats as possible, with a view to employ them largely in the transportation of the army to the Lower Chesapeake. The idea was at one time entertained by the President to use them in forming a bridge across the Potomac near Liverpool Point, in order to throw the army over at that point; but this was subsequently abandoned. It was also found by experience that it would require much time to prepare the canal-boats for use in transportation to the extent that had been anticipated.
Finally, on the 27th of February, 1862, the Secretary of War, by the authority of the President, instructed Mr. John Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War, to procure at once the necessary steamers and sailing craft to transport the Army of the Potomac to its new field of operations.
The following extract from the report of Mr. Tucker, dated April 5, will show the nature and progress of this well-executed service:
* * * * * * * * * *
I was called to Washington by telegraph on 17th January last by Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott. I was informed that Major-General McClellan wished to see me. From him I learned that he desired to know if transportation on smooth water could be obtained to move at one time, for a short distance, about 50,000 troops, 10,000 horses, 1,000 wagons, 13 batteries, and the usual equipment of such an army. He frankly stated to me that he had always supposed such a movement entirely feasible until two experienced quartermasters had recently reported it impracticable in their judgment. A few days afterwards I reported to General McClellan that I was entirely confident the transports could be commanded, and stated the mode by which his object could be accomplished. A week or two afterwards I had the honor of an interview with the President and General McClellan, when the subject was further discussed, and especially as to the time required.
I expressed the opinion that as the movement of the homes and wagons would have to be made chiefly by schooners and barges; that as each schooner would require to be properly fitted for the protection of the horses and furnished with a supply of water and forage, and each transport for the troops provided with water, I did not deem it prudent to assume that such an expedition could start within thirty days from the time the order was given.
The President and General McClellan both urgently stated the vast importance of an earlier movement. I replied that if favorable winds prevailed, and there was great dispatch in loading, the time might be materially diminished.
On the 14th of February you (Secretary of War) advertised for transports of various descriptions, inviting bids. On the 27th February I was informed that the proposed movement by water was decided upon. That evening the Quartermaster-General was informed of the decision. Directions were given to secure the transportation, and any assistance was tendered. He promptly detailed to this duty two most efficient assistants in his department. Col. Ruths Ingalls was stationed at Annapolis, where it was then proposed to embark the troops, and Capt. Henry C. Hedges was directed to meet me in Philadelphia, to attend to chartering the vessels. With these arrangements I left Washington on the 28th February.
I beg to hand herewith a statement, prepared by Captain Hedges, of the vessels chartered, which exhibits the prices paid and parties from whom they were taken:
113 steamers, at an average price per day $215.10
188 schooners, at an average price per day $24.45
88 barges, at an average price per day $14.27
In thirty-seven days from the time I received the order in Washington (and most of it was accomplished in thirty days) these vessels transported from Perryville, Alexandria, and Washington to Fort Monroe (the place of departure having been changed, which caused delay) 121,500 men, 14,592 animals, 1,150 wagons, 44 batteries, 74 ambulances, besides pontoon bridges, telegraph materials, and the enormous quantity of equipage, &c., required for an army of such magnitude. The only loss of which I have heard is eight mules and nine barges, which latter went ashore in a gale within a few miles of Fort Monroe, the cargoes being saved. With this trifling exception not the slightest accident has occurred, to my knowledge.
I respectfully but confidently submit that, for economy and celerity of movement, this expedition is without a parallel on record.
* * * * * * * * * *
Assistant Secretary of War.
In the mean time the destruction of the batteries on the Lower Potomac, by crossing our troops opposite them, was considered, and preparations were even made for throwing Hooker's division across the river, to carry them by assault. Finally, however, after an adverse report from Brig. Gen. J. G. Barnard, chief engineer, given below, who made a reconnaissance of the positions, and in view of the fact that it was still out of the power of the Navy Department to furnish suitable vessels to co-operate with land troops, this plan was abandoned as impracticable. A close examination of the enemy's works and their approaches, made after they were evacuated, showed that the decision was a wise one. The only means, therefore, of accomplishing the capture of these works, so much desired by the President, was by a movement by land, from the left of our lines, on the right bank of the Potomac--a movement obviously unwise.
The attention of the Navy Department, as early as August 12, 1861, had been called to the necessity of maintaining a strong force of efficient war vessels on the Potomac:
HEADQUARTERS DIVISION OF THE POTOMAC,
Washington, August 12, 1861.
SIR: I have to-day received additional information which convinces me that it is more than probable that the enemy will, within a very short time, attempt to throw a respectable force from the mouth of Aquia Creek into Maryland. This attempt will probably be preceded by the erection of batteries at Mathias and White House Points. Such a movement on the part of the enemy, in connection with others probably designed, would place Washington in great jeopardy. I most earnestly urge that the strongest possible naval force be at once concentrated near the mouth of Aquia Creek, and that the most vigilant watch be maintained day and night, so as to render such passage of the river absolutely impossible.
I recommend that the Minnesota and any other vessels available from Hampton Roads be at once ordered up there, and that a great quantity of coal be sent to that vicinity, sufficient for several weeks' supply. At least one strong war vessel should be kept at Alexandria, and I again urge the concentration of a strong naval force on the Potomac without delay.
If the Naval Department will render it absolutely impossible for the enemy to cross the river below Washington, the security of the capital will be greatly increased.
I cannot too earnestly urge an immediate compliance with these requests.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the United States Navy.
It was on the 27th of September, 1861, that General Barnard, chief engineer, in company with Captain Wyman, of the Potomac flotilla, had been instructed to make a reconnaissance of the enemy's batteries as far as Mathias Point. In his report of his observations he says:
Batteries at High Point and Cockpit Point, and thence down to Chopawamsic, cannot be prevented. We may, indeed, prevent their construction on certain points, but along here somewhere the enemy can establish, in spite of us, as many batteries as he chooses. What is the remedy? Favorable circumstances, not to be anticipated nor made the basis of any calculations, might justify and render successful the attack of a particular battery. To suppose that we can capture all, and by mere attacks of this kind prevent the navigation being molested, is very much the same as to suppose that the hostile army in our own front can prevent us building and maintaining field works to protect Arlington and Alexandria by capturing them, one and all, as fast as they are built.
In another communication upon the subject of crossing troops for the purpose of destroying the batteries on the Virginia side of the Potomac General Barnard says:
The operation involves the forcing of a very strong line of defense of the enemy and all that we would have to do if we were really opening a campaign against them there.
It is true we hope to force this line by turning it, by landing on Freestone Point. With reason to believe that this may be successful, it cannot be denied that it involves a risk of failure. Should we, then, considering all the consequences which may be involved, enter into the operation merely to capture the Potomac batteries? I think not. Will not the Ericsson, assisted by one other gunboat capable of keeping alongside these batteries, so far control their fire as to keep the navigation sufficiently free as long as we require it? Captain Wyman says yes.
It was the opinion of competent naval officers, and I concur with them, that had an adequate force of strong and well-armed vessels been acting on the Potomac from the beginning of August, it would have been next to impossible for the rebels to have constructed or maintained batteries upon the banks of the river. The enemy never occupied Mathias Point nor any other point on the river which was out of supporting distance from their main army.
When the enemy commenced the construction of these batteries the Army of the Potomac was not in a condition to prevent it. Their destruction by our army would have afforded but a temporary relief, unless we had been strong enough to hold the entire line of the Potomac. This could be done either by driving the enemy from Manassas and Aquia Creek by main force or by maneuvering to compel them to evacuate their positions. The latter course was finally pursued, and with success.
About the 20th of February, 1862, additional measures were taken to secure the reopening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The preliminary operations of General Lauder for this object are elsewhere described.
I had often observed to the President and to members of the Cabinet that the reconstruction of this railway could not be undertaken until we were in a condition to fight a battle to secure it. I regarded the possession of Winchester and Strasburg as necessary to cover the railway in the rear, and it was not until the month of February that I felt prepared to accomplish this very desirable but not vital purpose.
The whole of Banks' division and two brigades of Sedgwick's division were thrown across the river at Harper's Ferry, leaving one brigade of Sedgwick's division to observe and guard the Potomac from Great Falls to the mouth of the Monocacy. A sufficient number of troops of all arms were held in readiness in the vicinity of Washington, either to march via Leesburg or to move by rail to Harper's Ferry, should this become necessary in carrying out the objects in view.
The subjoined notes from a communication subsequently addressed to the War Department will sufficiently explain the conduct of these operations:
When I started for Harper's Ferry I plainly stated to the President and Secretary of War that the chief object of the operation would be to open the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad by crossing the river in force at Harper's Ferry; that I had collected the material for making a permanent bridge by means of canal-boats; that from the nature of the river it was doubtful whether such a bridge could be constructed; that if it could not, I would at least occupy the ground in front of Harper's Ferry, in order to cover the rebuilding of the railroad bridge, and finally, when the communications were perfectly secure, move on Winchester.
When I arrived at the place I found the batteau bridge nearly completed; the holding ground proved better than had been anticipated; the weather was favorable, there being no wind. I at once crossed over the two brigades which had arrived, and took steps to hurry up the other two, belonging respectively to Banks' and Sedgwick's divisions. The difficulty of crossing supplies had not then become apparent. That night I telegraphed for a regiment of regular cavalry and four batteries of heavy artillery to come up the next day (Thursday), besides directing Keyes' division of infantry to be moved up on Friday.
Next morning the attempt was made to pass the canal-boats through the lift-lock, in order to commence at once the construction of a permanent bridge. It was then found for the first time that the lock was too small to permit the passage of the boats, it having been built for a class of boats running on the Shenandoah Canal, and too narrow by some four or six inches for the canal-boats. The lift-locks above and below are all large enough for the ordinary boats. I had seen them at Edwards Ferry thus used. It had always been represented to the engineers by the military railroad employes and others that the lock was large enough, and, the difference being too small to he detected by the eye, no one had thought of measuring it or suspecting any difficulty. I thus suddenly found myself unable to build the permanent bridge. A violent gale had arisen, which threatened the safety of our only means of communication. The narrow approach to the bridge was so crowded and clogged with wagons, that it was very clear that, under existing circumstances, nothing more could be done than to cross over the baggage and supplies of the two brigades. Of the others, instead of being able to cross both during the morning, the last arrived only in time to go over just before dark. It was evident that the troops under orders would only be in the way should they arrive, and that it would not be possible to subsist them for a rapid march on Winchester. It was therefore deemed necessary to countermand the order, content ourselves with covering the reopening of the railroad for the present, and in the mean time use every exertion to establish as promptly as possible depots of forage and subsistence on the Virginia side, to supply the troops, and enable them to move on Winchester independently of the bridge. The next day (Friday) I sent a strong reconnaissance to Charlestown, and under its protection went there myself. I then determined to hold that place, and to move the troops composing Lander's and Williams' commands at once on Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, thus effectually covering the reconstruction of the railroad. Having done this, and taken all the steps in my power to insure the rapid transmission of supplies over the river, I returned to this city, well satisfied with what had been accomplished. While up the river I learned that the President was dissatisfied with the state of affairs, but on my return here understood from the Secretary of War that upon learning the whole state of the case the President was fully satisfied. I contented myself, therefore, with giving to the Secretary a brief statement, as I have written here.
The design aimed at was entirely compassed, and before the 1st of April, the date of my departure for the Peninsula, the railroad was in running order. As a demonstration upon the left flank of the enemy, this movement no doubt assisted in determining the evacuation of his lines on the 8th and 9th of March.
On my return from Harper's Ferry, on the 28th of February, the preparations necessary to carry out the wishes of the President and Secretary of War in regard to destroying the batteries on the Lower Potomac were at once undertaken. Mature reflection convinced me that this operation would require the movement of the entire army, for I felt sure that the enemy would resist it with his whole strength. I undertook it with great reluctance, both on account of the extremely unfavorable condition of the roads and my firm conviction that the proposed movement to the Lower Chesapeake would necessarily, as it subsequently did, force the enemy to abandon all his positions in front of Washington. Besides, it did not forward my plan of campaign to precipitate this evacuation by any direct attack, nor to subject the army to any needless loss of life and material by a battle near Washington, which could produce no decisive results. The preparations for a movement towards the Occoquan to carry the batteries were, however, advanced as rapidly as the season permitted, and I had invited the commanders of divisions to meet at headquarters on the 8th of March, for the purpose of giving them their instructions and receiving their advice and opinion in regard to their commands, when an interview with the President indicated to me the possibility of a change in my orders.
His excellency sent for me at a very early hour on the morning of the 8th, and renewed his expressions of dissatisfaction with the affair at Harper's Ferry and with my plans for the new movement down the Chesapeake. Another recital of the same facts which had before given satisfaction to his excellency again produced, as I supposed, the same result. The views which I expressed to the President were re-enforced by the result of a meeting of my general officers at headquarters. At that meeting my plans were laid before the division commanders, and were approved by a majority of those present. Nevertheless, on the same day two important orders were issued by the President, without consultation with me. The first of these was the General War Order, No. 2, directing the formation of army corps and assigning their commanders.
I had always been in favor of the principle of an organization into army corps, but preferred deferring its practical execution until some little experience in campaign and on the field of battle should show what general officers were most competent to exercise these high commands; for it must be remembered that we then had no officers whose experience in war on a large scale was sufficient to prove that they possessed the necessary qualifications. An incompetent commander of an army corps might cause irreparable damage, while it is not probable that an incompetent division commander could cause any very serious mischief. These views had frequently been expressed by me to the President and members of the Cabinet. It was therefore with as much regret as surprise that I learned the existence of this order.
The first order has been given above; the second order was as follows:
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 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.
After what has been said already in regard to the effect of a movement to the Lower Chesapeake, it is unnecessary for me to comment upon this document, further than to say that the time of beginning the movement depended upon the state of readiness of the transports, the entire control of which had been placed by the Secretary of War in the hands of one of the Assistant Secretaries, and not under the Quarter-master-General, so that, even if the movement were not impeded by the condition imposed in regard to the batteries on the Potomac, it could not have been in my power to begin it before the 18th of March, unless the Assistant Secretary of War had completed his arrangements by that time.
Meanwhile important events were occurring which materially modified the designs for the subsequent campaign. The appearance of the Merrimac off Old Point Comfort, and the encounter with the United States squadron on the 8th of March, threatened serious derangement of the plan for the Peninsula movement. But the engagement between the Monitor and Merrimac on the 9th of March demonstrated so satisfactorily the power of the former, and the other naval preparations were so extensive and formidable, that the security of Fort Monroe as a base of operations was placed beyond a doubt, and although the James River was closed to us, the York River with its tributaries was still open as a line of water communication with the Fortress. The general plan, therefore, remained undisturbed, although less promising in its details than when the James River was in our control.
On Sunday, the 9th of March, information from various sources made it apparent that the enemy was evacuating his positions at Centreville and Manassas as well as on the Upper and Lower Potomac. The President and Secretary of War were present when the most positive information reached me, and I expressed to them my intention to cross the river immediately, and there gain the most authentic information prior to determining what course to pursue.
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.
The retirement of the enemy and the occupation of the abandoned positions which necessarily followed presented an opportunity for the troops to gain some experience on the march and bivouac preparatory to the campaign, and to get rid of the superfluous baggage and other "impedimenta" which accumulates so easily around an army encamped for a long time in one locality.
A march to Manassas and back could produce no delay in embarking for the Lower Chesapeake, as the transports could not be ready for some time, and it afforded a good intermediate step between the quiet and comparative comfort of the camps around Washington and the rigors of active operations, besides accomplishing the important object of determining the positions, and perhaps the future designs, of the enemy, with the possibility of being able to harass their rear.
I therefore issued orders during the night of the 9th of March for a general movement of the army the next morning towards Centreville and Manassas, sending in advance two regiments of cavalry under Colonel Averell, with orders to reach Manassas if possible, ascertain the exact condition of affairs, and do whatever he could to retard and annoy the enemy if really in retreat; at the same time I telegraphed to the Secretary of War that it would be necessary to defer the organization of the army corps until the completion of the projected advance upon Manassas, as the divisions could not be brought together in time. The Secretary replied, requiring immediate compliance with the President's order; but on my again representing that this would compel the abandonment or postponement of the movement to Manassas, he finally consented to its postponement.
At noon on the 10th of March the cavalry advance reached the enemy's lines at Centreville, passing through his recently-occupied camps and works, and finding still burning heaps of military stores and much valuable property.
Immediately after being assigned to the command of the troops around Washington I organized a secret-service force, under Mr. E. J. Allen, a very experienced and efficient person. This force, up to the time I was relieved from command, was continually occupied in procuring from all possible sources information regarding the strength, positions, and movements of the enemy. (Mr. Allen Pinkerton was the trustworthy and efficient chief of the secret-service corps mentioned under the assumed name of E. J. Allen.)
All spies, "contrabands," deserters, refugees, and many prisoners of war coming into our lines from the front were carefully examined, first by the outpost and division commanders, and then by my chief of staff and the provost-marshal-general. Their statements, taken in writing, and in many cases under oath, from day to day, for a long period, previous to the evacuation of Manassas, comprised a mass of evidence which, by careful digests and collations, enabled me to estimate with considerable accuracy the strength of the enemy before us. Summaries showing the character and results of the labors of the secret-service force accompany this report, and I refer to them for the facts they contain, and as a measure of the ignorance which led some journals at that time, and persons in high office, unwittingly to trifle with the reputation of an army, and to delude the country with quaker-gun stories of the defenses and gross understatements of the numbers of the enemy.
The following orders were issued for the examination of persons coming from the direction of the enemy:
[CIRCULAR.] HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Washington, December 16, 1861.
The Major-General Commanding directs that hereafter all deserters, prisoners, spies, "contrabands," and all other persons whatever coming or brought within our lines from Virginia shall be taken immediately to the quarters of the commander of the division within whose lines they may come or be brought, without previous examination by any one, except so far as may be necessary for the officer commanding the advance guard to elicit information regarding his particular post; that the division commander examine all such persons himself, or delegate such duty to a proper officer of his staff, and allow no other persons to hold any communication with them; that he then immediately send them, with a sufficient guard, to the provost-marshal in this city for further examination and safe-keeping, and that stringent orders be given to all guards having such persons in charge not to hold any communication with them whatever; and, further, that the information elicited from such persons shall be immediately communicated to the major-general commanding or to the chief of staff, and to no other person whatever.
The Major-General Commanding further directs that a sufficient guard be placed around every telegraph station pertaining to this army, and that such guards be instructed not to allow any person, except the regular telegraph corps, general officers, and such staff officers as may be authorized by their chief, to enter or loiter around said stations within hearing of the sound of the telegraph instruments.
By command of Major-General McClellan:
GENERAL ORDERS, No. 72
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Washington, February 26, 1862.
All deserters from the enemy, prisoners, and other persons coming within our lines will be taken at once to the provost-marshal of the nearest division, who will examine them in presence of the division commander, or an officer of his staff designated for the purpose. This examination will only refer to such information as may affect the division and those near it, especially those remote from general headquarters.
As soon as this examination is completed--and it must be made as rapidly as possible---the person will be sent, under proper guard, to the provost-marshal-general, with a statement of his replies to the questions asked. Upon receiving him the provost-marshal-general will at once send him, with his statement, to the chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac, who will cause the necessary examination to be made. The provost-marshal-general will have the custody of all such persons. Division commanders will at once communicate to other division commanders all information thus obtained which affects them.
By command of Major-General McClellan:
In addition to the foregoing orders the division commanders were instructed, whenever they desired to send out scouts towards the enemy, to make known the object at headquarters, in order that I might determine whether we had the information it was proposed to obtain, and that I might give the necessary orders to other commanders, so that the scouts should not be molested by the guards.
It will be seen from the report of the chief of the secret-service corps, dated March 8, that the forces of the rebel Army of the Potomac, at that date, were as follows:
Men At Manassas, Centreville, Bull Run, Upper Oceoquan, and vicinity 80,000 At Brooks' Station, Dumfries, Lower Occoquan, and vicinity 18,000 At Leesburg and vicinity 4,500 In the Shenandoah Valley 13,000 115,500
About 300 field guns and from 26 to 30 siege guns were with the rebel army in front of Washington. The report made on the 17th of March, after the evacuation of Manassas and Centreville, corroborates the statements contained in the report of the 8th, and is fortified by the affidavits of several railroad engineers, conductors, baggage-masters, &c., whose opportunities for forming correct estimates were unusually good. These affidavits will be found in the accompanying reports of the chief of the secret-service corps.
A reconnaissance of the works at Centreville, made by Lieutenant McAlester, U.S. Engineers, on March 14, 1862, and a survey of those at Manassas, made by a party of the U.S. Coast Survey, in April, 1862, confirmed also my conclusions as to the strength of the enemy's defenses. Those at Centreville consisted of two lines, one facing east and the other north. The former consisted of seven works, viz: one bastion fort, two redoubts, two lunettes, and two batteries, all containing embrasures for 40 guns, and connected by infantry parapets and double caponnieres. It extended along the crest of the ridge a mile and three-quarters from its junction with the northern front to groand thickly wooded and impassable to an attacking column.
The northern front extended about one and one-fourth miles to Great Rocky Run, and thence three-fourths of a mile farther to thickly-wooded, impassable ground in the valley of Cub Run. It consisted of six lunettes and batteries, with embrasures for 31 guns, connected by an infantry parapet in the form of a cremaillere line with redans. At the town of Centreville, on a high hill commanding the rear of all the works within range, was a large hexagonal redoubt with ten embrasures.
Manassas Station was defended in all directions by a system of detached works, with platforms for heavy guns arranged for marine carriages, and often connected by infantry parapets. This system was rendered complete by a very large work, with sixteen embrasures, which commanded the highest of the other works by about 50 feet.
Sketches of the reconnaissances above referred to will be found among the maps appended to this report.
From this it will be seen that the positions selected by the enemy at Centreville and Manassas were naturally very strong, with impassable streams and broken ground, affording ample protection for their flanks, and that strong lines of intrenchments swept all the available approaches.
Although the history of every former war has conclusively shown the great advantages which arc possessed by an army acting on the defensive and occupying strong positions, defended by heavy earthworks, yet at the commencement of this war but few civilians in our country, and indeed not all military men of rank, had a just appreciation of the fact.
New levies that have never been in battle cannot be expected to advance without cover under the murderous fire from such defenses and carry them by assault. This is work in which veteran troops frequently falter and are repulsed with loss. That an assault of the enemy's positions in front of Washington, with the new troops composing the Army of the Potomac, during the winter of 1861-'62, would have resulted in defeat and demoralization, was too probable.
The same army, though inured to war in many battles, hard-fought and bravely won, has twice, under other generals, suffered such disasters as it was no excess of prudence then to avoid. My letter to the Secretary of War, dated February 3, 1862, and given above, expressed the opinion that the movement to the Peninsula would compel the enemy to retire from his position at Manassas and free Washington from danger. When the enemy first learned of that plan, they did thus evacuate Manassas. During the Peninsular campaign, as at no former period, Northern Virginia was completely in our possession and the vicinity of Washington free from the presence of the enemy. The ground so gained was not lost, nor Washington again put in danger, until the enemy learned of the orders for the evacuation of the Peninsula, sent to me at Harrison's Bar, and were again left free to advance northward and menace the national capital. Perhaps no one now doubts that the best defense of Washington is a Peninsula attack on Richmond.
My order for the organization of the army corps was issued on the 13th of March. It has been given above.
While at Fairfax Court-House, on March 12, I was informed through the telegraph by a member of my staff that the following document had appeared in the National Intelligencer of that morning:
PRESIDENT'S WAR ORDER, No. 3
Washington, March 11, 1862.
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, he retaining command of the Department of the Potomac.
Ordered further, That the departments now under the respective commands of Generals Halleck and Hunter, together with so much of that under General Buell as lies west of a north and south line indefinitely drawn through Knoxville, Tenn., be consolidated and designated the Department of the Mississippi, and that, until otherwise ordered, Major-General Halleck have command of said department.
Ordered also, That the country west of the Department of the Potomac and east of the Department of the Mississippi be a military department, to be called the Mountain Department, and that the same be commanded by Major-General Fremont.
That all the commanders of departments, after the receipt of this order by them, respectively report severally and directly to the Secretary of War, and that prompt, full, and frequent reports will be expected of all and each of them.
Though unaware of the President's intention to remove me from the position of General-in-Chief, I cheerfully acceded to the disposition he saw fit to make of my services, and so informed him in a note on the 12th of March, in which occur these words:
I believe I said to you some weeks since, in connection with some Western matters, that no feeling of self-interest or ambition should ever prevent me from devoting myself to the service. I am glad to have the opportunity to prove it, and you will find that, under present circumstances, I shall work just as cheerfully as before, and that no consideration of self will in any manner interfere with the discharge of my public duties. Again thanking you for the official and personal kindness you have so often evinced towards me, I am, &c.
On the 14th of March a reconnaissance of a large body of cavalry, with some infantry, under command of General Stoneman, was sent along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to determine the position of the enemy, and, if possible, force his rear across the Rappahannock, but the roads were in such condition that, finding it impossible to subsist his men, General Stoneman was forced to return after reaching Cedar Run.
The following dispatch from him recites the result of this expedition:
* * * * * * * * * *
The main body of the army was on the 15th of March moved back to the vicinity of Alexandria, to be embarked, leaving a part of General Sumner's corps at Manassas until other troops could be sent to relieve it. Before it was withdrawn a strong reconnaissance, under General Howard, was sent towards the Rappahannock, the result of which appears in the following dispatch:
WARRENTON JUNCTION, March '29, 1862.
General S. WILLIAMS:
Express just received from General Howard. He drove the enemy across the Rappahannock Bridge, and is now in camp on this bank of and near the Rappahannock River. The enemy blew up the bridge in his retreat. There was skirmishing during the march, and a few shots exchanged by the artillery, without any loss on our part. Their loss, if any, is not known. General Howard will return to this camp to-morrow morning.
E. V. SUMNER,
The line of the Rappahannock and the Manassas Gap Railroad was thus left reasonably secure from menace by any considerable body of the enemy.
On the 13th of March a council of war was assembled at Fairfax Court-House to discuss the military status. The President's Order, No. 3, of March 8, was considered. The following is a memorandum of the proceedings of the council:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Fairfax Court-House, March 13, 1862.
A council of the generals commanding army corps at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac were of the opinion:
I. That the enemy having retreated from Manassas to Gordonsville, behind the Rappahannock and Rapidan, it is the opinion of the generals commanding army corps that the operations to be carried on will be best undertaken from Old Point Comfort, between the York and James Rivers, provided-
1st. That the enemy's vessel, Merrimac, can be neutralized;
2d. That the means of transportation sufficient for an immediate transfer of the force to its new base can be ready at Washington and Alexandria to move down the Potomac; and
3d. That a naval auxiliary force can be had to silence, or aid in silencing, the enemy's batteries on the York River.
4th. That the force to be left to cover Washington shall be such as to give an entire feeling of security for its safety from menace. (Unanimous.)
II. If the foregoing cannot be, the army should then be moved against the enemy, behind the Rappahannock, at the earliest possible moment, and the means for reconstructing bridges, repairing railroads, and stocking them with materials sufficient for supplying the army should at once be collected for both the Orange and Alexandria and Aquia and Richmond Railroads. (Unanimous.)
N. B.--That with the forts on the right bank of the Potomac fully garrisoned and those on the left bank occupied a covering force in front of the Virginia line of 25,000 men would suffice. (Keyes, Heintzelman, and McDowell.) A total of 40,000 men for the defense of the city would suffice. (Sumner.)
This was assented to by myself and immediately communicated to the War Department. The following reply was received the same day:
WAR DEPARTMENT, March 13, 1862.
The President having considered the plan of operations agreed upon by yourself and the commanders of army corps, makes no objection to the same, but gives the following directions as to its execution:
1. Leave such force at Manassas Junction as shall make it entirely certain that the enemy shall not repossess himself of that position and line of communication.
2. Leave Washington entirely secure.
3. Move the remainder of the force down the Potomac, choosing a new base at Fortress Monroe, or anywhere between here and there, or, at all events, move such remainder of the army at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route.
EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
Maj. Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN.
My preparations were at once begun in accordance with these directions, and on the 16th of March the following instructions were sent to Generals Banks and Wadsworth:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
March 16, 1862.
SIR: You will post your command in the vicinity of Manassas, intrench yourself strongly, and throw cavalry pickets well out to the front.
Your first care will be the rebuilding of the railway from Washington to Manassas and to Strasburg, in order to open your communications with the valley of the Shenandoah. As soon as the Manassas Gap Railway is in running order, intrench a brigade of infantry, say four regiments, with two batteries, at or near the point where the railway crosses the Shenandoah. Something like two regiments of cavalry should be left in that vicinity to occupy Winchester and thoroughly scour the country south of the railway and up the Shenandoah Valley, as well as through Chester Gap, which might perhaps be advantageously occupied by a detachment of infantry, well intrenched. Block-houses should be built at all the railway bridges. Occupy by grand guards Warrenton Junction and Warrenton itself, and also some little more advanced point on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad as soon as the railway bridge is repaired.
Great activity should be observed by the cavalry. Besides the two regiments at Manassas, another regiment of cavalry will be at your disposal to scout towards the Occoquan, and probably a fourth towards Leesburg.
To recapitulate, the most important points which should engage your attention are as follows:
1. A strong force, well intrenched, in the vicinity of Manassas--perhaps even Centreville; and another force (a brigade), also well intrenched, near Strasburg.
2. Block-houses at the railway bridges.
3. Constant employment of the cavalry well to the front.
4. Grand guards at Warrenton Junction, and in advance as far as the Rappahannock, if possible.
5. Great care to be exercised to obtain full and early information as to the enemy. 6. The general object is to cover the line of the Potomac and Washington. The above is communicated by command of Major-General McClellan.
Maj. Gen. N. P. BANKS,
Commanding Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
March 16, 1862.
SIR: The command to which you have been assigned, by instructions of the President, as military governor of the District of Columbia, embraces the geographical limits of the District, and will also include the city of Alexandria, the defensive works south of the Potomac from the Occoquan to Difficult Creek, and the post of Fort Washington. I inclose a list of the troops and of the defenses embraced in these limits.
General Banks will command at Manassas Junction, with the divisions of Williams and Shields, composing the Fifth Corps, but you should nevertheless exercise vigilance in your front, carefully guard the approaches in that quarter, and maintain the duties of advance guards. You will use the same precautions on either flank.
All troops not actually needed for the police of Washington and Georgetown, for the garrisons north of the Potomac, and for other indicated special duties, should be moved to the south side of the river.
In the center of your front you should post the main body of your troops, and proper proportions at suitable distances towards your right and left flanks. Careful patrols will be made, in order thoroughly to scour the country in front from right to left.
It is specially enjoined upon you to maintain the forts and their armaments in the best possible order, to look carefully to the instruction and discipline of their garrisons, as well as all other troops under your command, and by frequent and rigid inspections to insure the attainment of these ends.
The care of the railways, canals, depots, bridges, and ferries within the above-named limits will devolve upon you, and you are to insure their security and provide for their protection by every means in your power. You will also protect the depots of the public stores and the transit of stores to troops in active service.
By means of patrols you will thoroughly scour the neighboring country south of the Eastern Branch, and also on your right; and you will use every possible precaution to intercept mails, goods, and persons passing unauthorized to the enemy's lines.
The necessity of maintaining good order within your limits, and especially in the capital of the nation, cannot be too strongly enforced.
You will forward and facilitate the movement of all troops destined for the active part of the Army of the Potomac, and especially the transit of detachments to their proper regiments and corps.
The charge of the new troops arriving in Washington and of all troops temporarily there will devolve upon you. You will form them into provisional brigades, promote their instruction and discipline, and facilitate their equipment. Report all arrivals of troops, their strength, composition, and equipment, by every opportunity.
Besides the regular reports and returns which you will be required to render to the Adjutant-General of the Army, you will make to these headquarters a consolidated report of your command every Sunday morning and monthly returns on the first day of each month.
The foregoing instructions are communicated by command of Major-General McClellan.
Brig. Gen. J. S. WADSWORTH,
Military Governor of the District of Columbia.
The Secretary of War had expressed a desire that I should communicate to the War Department my designs with regard to the employment of the Army of the Potomac in an official form. I submitted, on the 19th of March, the following:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Theological Seminary, Va., March 19, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following notes on the proposed operations of the active portion of the Army of the Potomac.
The proposed plan of campaign is to assume Fort Monroe as the first base of operations, taking the line of Yorktown and West Point upon Richmond as the line of operations, Richmond being the objective point. It is assumed that the fall of Richmond involves that of Norfolk and the whole of Virginia; also that we shall fight a decisive battle between West Point and Richmond, to give which battle the rebels will concentrate all their available forces, understanding, as they will, that it involves the fate of their cause. It therefore follows--
1st. That we should collect all our available forces and operate upon adjacent lines, maintaining perfect communication between our columns.
2d. That no time should be lost in reaching the field of battle.
The advantages of the Peninsula between York and James Rivers are too obvious to need explanation. It is also clear that West Point should as soon as possible be reached and used as our main depot, that we may have the shortest line of land transportation for our supplies and the use of the York River.
There are two methods of reaching this point:
1st: By moving directly from Fort Monroe as a base, and trusting to the roads for our supplies, at the same time landing a strong corps as near Yorktown as possible, in order to turn the rebel lines of defense south of Yorktown; then to reduce Yorktown and Gloucester by a siege, in all probability involving a delay of weeks, perhaps.
2d. To make a combined naval and land attack upon Yorktown the first object of the campaign. This leads to the most rapid and decisive results. To accomplish this, the Navy should at once concentrate upon the York River all their available and most powerful batteries. Its reduction should not in that case require many hours. A strong corps would be pushed up the York, under cover of the Navy, directly upon West Point, immediately upon the fall of Yorktown, and we could at once establish our new base of operations at a distance of some 25 miles from Richmond, with every facility for developing and bringing into play the whole of our available force on either or both banks of the James..
It is impossible to urge too strongly the absolute necessity of the full co-operation of the Navy as a part of this programme. Without it the operations may be prolonged for many weeks, and we may be forced to carry in front several strong positions, which by their aid could be turned without serious loss of either time or men.
It is also of first importance to bear in mind the fact, already alluded to, that the capture of Richmond necessarily involves the prompt fall of Norfolk, while an operation against Norfolk, if successful, as the beginning of the campaign, facilitates the reduction of Richmond merely by the demoralization of the rebel troops involved, and that after the fall of Norfolk we should be obliged to undertake the capture of Richmond by the same means which would have accomplished it in the beginning, having meanwhile afforded the rebels ample time to perfect their defensive arrangements; for they would well know, from the moment the Army of the Potomac changed its base to Fort Monroe, that Richmond must be its ultimate object.
It may be summed up in few words, that for the prompt success of this campaign it is absolutely necessary that the Navy should at once throw its whole available three, its most powerful vessels, against Yorktown. There is the most important point--there the knot to be cut. An immediate decision upon the subject-matter of this communication is highly desirable, and seems called for by the exigencies of the occasion.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Hon. E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
In the mean time the troops destined to form the active army were collected in camps convenient to' the points of embarkation, and every preparation made to embark them as rapidly as possible when the transports were ready.
A few days before sailing for Fort Monroe, while still encamped near Alexandria, I met the President by appointment on a steamer. He there informed me that he had been strongly pressed to take General Blenker's division from my command and give it to General Fremont. His excellency was good enough to suggest several reasons for not taking Blenker's division from me. I assented to the force of his suggestions, and was extremely gratified by his decision to allow the division to remain with the Army of the Potomac. It was therefore with surprise that I received on the 31st the following note:
Washington, March 31, 1862.
MY DEAR SIR: This morning I felt constrained to order Blenker's division to Fremont, and I write this to assure you that I did so with great pain, understanding that you would wish it otherwise. If you could know the full pressure of the case I am confident you would justify it, even beyond a mere acknowledgment that the Commander-in-Chief may order what he pleases.
Yours, very truly,
To this I replied in substance that I regretted the order, and could ill afford to lose 10,000 troops which had been counted upon in forming my plan of campaign, but as there was no remedy, I would yield, and do the best I could without them. In a conversation with the President a few hours afterwards I repeated verbally the same thing, and expressed my regret that Blenker's division had been given to General Fremont from any pressure other than the requirements of the national exigency. I was partially relieved, however, by the President's positive and emphatic assurance that I might be confident that no more troops beyond these 10,000 should in any event be taken from me or in any way detached from my command.
At the time of the evacuation of Manassas by the enemy Jackson was at Winchester, our forces occupying Chalestown, and Shields' reaching Bunker Hill on the 11th. On the morning of the 12th a brigade of General Banks' troops, under General Hamilton, entered Winchester, the enemy having left at 5 o'clock the evening before, his rear guard of cavalry leaving an hour before our advance entered the place. The enemy having made his preparations for evacuation some days before, it was not possible to intercept his retreat. On the 13th the mass of Banks' corps was concentrated in the immediate vicinity of Winchester, the enemy being in the rear of Strasburg. On the 19th General Shields occupied Strasburg, driving the enemy 20 miles south to Mount Jackson. On the 20th the first division of Banks' corps commenced its movement towards Manassas, in compliance with my letter of instructions of the 16th. Jackson probably received information of this movement, and supposed that no force of any consequence was left in the vicinity of Winchester, and upon the falling back of Shields to that place, for the purpose of enticing Jackson in pursuit, the latter promptly followed, whereupon ensued a skirmish on the 22d, in which General Shields was wounded, and an affair at Winchester on the 23d, resulting in the defeat of Jackson, who was pursued as rapidly as the exhaustion of our troops and the difficulty of obtaining supplies permitted. It is presumed that the full reports of the battle of Winchester were forwarded direct to the War Department by General Banks.
It being now clear that the enemy had no intention of returning by the Manassas route, the following letter of April 1 was written to General Banks:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
On Board the Commodore, April 1, 1862.
GENERAL: The change in affairs in the valley of the Shenandoah has rendered necessary a corresponding departure, temporarily at least, from the plan we some days since agreed upon.
In my arrangements I assume that you have with you a force amply sufficient to drive Jackson before you, provided he is not re-enforced largely. I also assume that you may find it impossible to detach anything towards Manassas for some days, probably not until the operations of the main army have drawn all the rebel force towards Richmond.
You are aware that General Sumner has for some days been at Manassas Junction with two divisions of infantry, six batteries, and two regiments of cavalry, and that a reconnaissance to the Rappahannock forced the enemy to destroy the railway bridge at Rappahannock Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. Since that time our cavalry have found nothing on this side the Rappahannock in that direction, and it seems clear that we have no reason to fear any return of the rebels in that quarter. Their movements near Fredericksburg also indicate a final abandonment of that neighborhood. I doubt whether Johnston will now re-enforce Jackson with a view of offensive operations. The time is probably past when he could have gained anything by doing so. I have ordered in one of Sumner's divisions (that of Richardson, late Sumner's) to Alexandria for embarkation. Blenker's has been detached from the Army of the Potomac and ordered to report to General Fremont. Abercrombie is probably at Warrenton Junction to-day. Geary is at White Plains. Two regiments of cavalry have been ordered out and are now on the way to relieve the two regiments of Sumner.
Four thousand infantry and one battery leave Washington at once for Manassas. Some 3,000 more will move in one or two days, and soon after some 3,000 additional. I will order Blenker to march on Strasburg and to report to you for temporary duty, so that, should you find a large force in your front, you can avail yourself of his aid as soon as possible. Please direct him to Winchester, thence to report to the' Adjutant-General of the Army for orders; but keep him until you are sure what you have in front.
In regard to your own movements, the most important thing at present is to throw Jackson well back, and then to assume such a position as to enable you to prevent his return. As soon as the railway communications are re-established it will be probably important and advisable to move on Staunton, but this would require secure communications and a force of from 25,000 to 30,000 for active operations. It should also be nearly coincident with my own move on Richmond; at all events, not so long before it as to enable the rebels to concentrate on you and then return on me. I fear that you cannot be ready in time, although it may come in very well with a force less than that I have mentioned, after the main battle near Richmond. When General Sumner leaves Warrenton 'Junction, General Abercrombie will be placed in immediate command of Manassas and Warrenton Junction under your general orders. Please inform me frequently by telegraph and otherwise as to the state of things in your front.
I am, very truly, yours,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
P. S.--From what I have just learned it would seem that the regiments of cavalry intended for Warrenton Junction have gone to Harper's Ferry. Of the four additional regiments placed under your orders, two should as promptly as possible move by the shortest route on Warrenton Junction.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Maj. Gen. N. P. BANKS,
Commanding Fifth Corps.
This letter needs no further explanation than to say that it was my intention, had the operations in that quarter remained under my charge, either to have resumed the defensive positions marked out in the letter of March 16, or to have advanced General Banks upon Staunton, as might in the progress of events seem advisable.
It is to be remembered that when I wrote the preceding and following letters of April 1. I had no expectation of being relieved from the charge of the operations in the Shenandoah Valley, the President's War Order, No. 3, giving no intimation of such an intention, and that so far as reference was made to final operations after driving Jackson back and taking such a position as to prevent his return, no positive orders were given in the letter, the matter being left for future consideration when the proper time arrived for a decision.
From the following letter to the Adjutant-General, dated April 1, 1862, it will be seen that I left for the defenses of the national capital and its approaches, when I sailed for the Peninsula, 73,456 men, with 109 pieces of light artillery, including the 32 pieces in Washington alluded to but not enumerated in my letter to the Adjutant-General. It will also be seen that I recommended other available troops in New York (more than 4,000) to be at once ordered forward to re-enforce them:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Steamer Commodore, April 1, 1862.
GENERAL: I have to request that you will lay the following communication before the honorable Secretary of War:
The approximate numbers and positions of the troops left near and in rear of the Potomac are as follows:
General Dix has, after guarding the railroads under his charge, sufficient to give him 5,000 for the defense of Baltimore and 1,988 available for the Eastern Shore, Annapolis, &c. Fort Delaware is very well garrisoned by about 400 men.
The garrisons of the forts around Washington amount to 10,600 men; other disposable troops now with General Wadsworth about 11,400 men.
The troops employed in guarding the various railways in Maryland amount to some 3,359 men. These it is designed to relieve, being old regiments, by dismounted cavalry, and to send forward to Manassas.
General Abercrombie occupies Warrenton with a force which, including Colonel Geary at White Plains and the cavalry to be at his disposal, will amount to some 7,780 men, with 12 pieces of artillery.
I have the honor to request that all the troops organized for service in Pennsylvania and New York and in any of the Eastern States may be ordered to Washington. I learn from Governor Curtin that there are some 3,500 men now ready in Pennsylvania. This force I should be glad to have sent to Manassas. Four thousand men from General Wadsworth I desire to be ordered to Manassas. These troops, with the railroad guards above alluded to, will make up a force under the command of General Abercrombie of something like 18,639 men.
It is my design to push General Blenker's division from Warrenton upon Strasburg. He should remain at Strasburg long enough to allow matters to assume a definite form in that region before proceeding to his ultimate destination.
The troops in the valley of the Shenandoah will thus, including Blenker's division, 10,028 strong, with 24 pieces of artillery: Banks' Fifth Corps, which embraces the command of General Shields, 19,687 strong, with 41 guns; some 3,652 disposable cavalry and the railroad guards, about 2,100 men, amount to about 35.467 men.
It is designed to relieve General Hooker by one regiment, say 850 men, being, with some 500 cavalry, 1,350 men on the Lower Potomac.
Men At Warrenton there is to be 7,780 At Manassas, say 10,859 In the valley of the Shenandoah 35,467 On the Lower Potomac 1,350 In all 55,456
There would thus be left for the garrisons and the front of Washington, under General Wadsworth, some 18,000, inclusive of the batteries under instruction. The troops organizing or ready for service in New York, I learn, will probably number more than 4,000. These should be assembled at Washington, subject to disposition where their services may be most required.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brig. Gen. L. THOMAS,
Adjutant-General, U.S. Army.
The following letter from General Barry shows that thirty-two field guns, with men, horses, and equipments, were also left in Washington City when the army sailed. These were the batteries under instruction referred to above:
HEADQUARTERS INSPECTOR OF ARTILLERY,
Washington, December 16, 1862.
GENERAL: It having been stated in various public prints, and in a speech of Senator Chandler, of Michigan, in his place in the United States Senate, quoting what he stated to be a portion of the testimony of Brigadier-General Wadsworth, military governor of Washington, before the joint Senate and House Committee on the Conduct of the War, that Major-General McClellan had left an insufficient force for the defense of Washington, and not a gun on wheels--
I have to contradict this charge as follows:
From official reports made at the time to me (the chief of artillery of the Army of the Potomac), and now in my possession, by the commanding officer of the light artillery troops left in camp in the city of Washington by your order, it appears that the following-named field batteries were left:
Battery C, First New York Artillery, Captain Barnes, two guns; Battery K, First New York Artillery, Captain Crounse, six guns; Battery L, Second New York Artillery, Captain Robinson, six guns; Ninth New York Independent Battery, Captain Morozowicz, six guns; Sixteenth New York Independent Battery, Captain Locke; Battery A, Second Battalion New York Artillery, Captain Hogan, six guns; Battery B, Second Battalion New York Artillery, Captain McMahon, six guns; total, seven batteries, thirty-two guns.
With the exception of a few horses, which could have been procured from the Quartermaster's Department in a few hours, the batteries were all fit for immediate service, excepting the Sixteenth New York Battery, which having been previously ordered, on General Wadsworth's application, to report to him for special service, was un-equipped with either guns or horses.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. F. BARRY,
Brigadier-General, Inspector of Artillery, U. S. Army.
It is true that Blenker's division, which is included in the force enumerated by me, was under orders to re-enforce General Fremont, but the following dispatch from the Secretary of War, dated March 31, 1862, will show that I was authorized to detain him at Strasburg until matters assumed a definite form in that region, before proceeding to his ultimate destination; in other words, until Jackson was disposed of. And had he been detained there, instead of moving on to Harper's Ferry and Franklin, under other orders, it is probable that General Banks would have defeated Jackson, instead of being himself obliged subsequently to retreat to Williamsport:
Washington, D.C., March 31, 1862.
The order in respect to Blenker is not designed to hinder or delay the movement of Richardson or any other force. He can remain wherever you desire him as long as required for your movements and in any position you desire. The order is simply to place him in position for re-enforcing Fremont as soon as your dispositions will permit, and he may go to Harper's Ferry by such route and at such time as you shall direct. State your own wishes as to the movement, when and how it shall be made.
EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
Without including General Blenker's division, there were left 67,428 men and eighty-five pieces of light artillery, which, under existing circumstances, I deemed more than adequate to insure the perfect security of Washington against any force the enemy could bring against it, for the following reasons:
The light troops I had thrown forward under General Stoneman in pursuit of the rebel army, after the evacuation of Manassas and Centerville, had driven their rear guard across Cedar Run; and subsequent expeditions from Sumner's corps had forced them beyond the Rappahannock. They had destroyed all the railroad bridges behind them, thereby indicating that they did not intend to return over that route. Indeed, if they had attempted such a movement, their progress must have been slow and difficult, as it would have involved the reconstruction of the bridges; and if my orders for keeping numerous cavalry patrols well out to the front, to give timely notice of any approach of the enemy, had been strictly enforced (and I left seven regiments of cavalry for this express purpose), they could not by any possibility have reached Washington before there would have been ample time to concentrate the entire forces left for its defense, as well as those at Baltimore, at any necessary point.
It was clear to my mind, as I reiterated to the authorities, that the movement of the Army of the Potomac would have the effect to draw off the hostile army from Manassas to the defense of their capital, and thus free Washington from menace. This opinion was confirmed the moment the movement commenced, or rather as soon as the enemy became aware of our intentions, for with the exception of Jackson's force of some 15,000, which his instructions show to have been intended to operate in such a way as to prevent McDowell's corps from being sent to re-enforce me, no rebel force of any magnitude made its appearance in front of Washington during the progress of our operations on the Peninsula, nor until the order was given for my return from Harrison's Landing was Washington again threatened.
Surrounded as Washington was with numerous and strong fortifications, well garrisoned, it was manifest that the enemy could not afford to detach from his main army a force sufficient to assail them.
It is proper to remark, that just previous to my departure for Fort Monroe I sent my chief of staff to General Hitchcock, who at that time held staff relations with his excellency the President and the Secretary of War, to submit to him a list of the troops I proposed to leave for the defense of Washington, and the positions in which I designed posting them. General Hitchcock, after glancing his eye over the list, observed that he was not the judge of what was required for defending the capital; that General McClellan's position was such as to enable him to understand the subject much better than he did, and he presumed that if the force designated was in his judgment sufficient, nothing more would be required. He was then told by the chief of staff that I would be glad to have his opinion, as an old and experienced officer. To this he replied, that as I had had the entire control of the defenses for a long time, I was the best judge of what was needed, and he declined to give any other expression of opinion at that time.
On the 2d of April, the day following my departure for Fort Monroe, Generals Hitchcock and Thomas were directed by the Secretary of War to examine and report whether the President's instructions to me of March 8 and 13 had been complied with. On the same day their report was submitted, and their decision was--
That the requirement of the President that this city (Washington) shall be left entirely secure has not been fully complied with.
The President, in his letter to me on the 9th of April, says:
And now allow me to ask, do you really think I should permit the line from Richmond via Manassas Junction to this city to be entirely open except what resistance could be presented by less than 20,000 unorganized troops?
In the report of Generals Hitchcock and Thomas, alluded to, it is acknowledged that there was no danger of an attack from the direction of Manassas, in these words:
In regard to occupying Manassas Junction, as the enemy have destroyed the railroads leading to it, it may be fair to assume that they have no intention of returning for the reoccupation of their late position: and therefore no large force would be necessary to hold that position.
That, as remarked before, was precisely the view I took of it, and this was enforced by the subsequent movements of the enemy.
In another paragraph of the report it is stated that 55,000 men was the number considered adequate for the defense of the capital. That General McClellan, in his enumeration of the forces left, had included Banks' army corps, operating in the Shenandoah Valley, but whether this corps should be regarded as available for the protection of Washington they decline to express an opinion. At the time this report was made the only enemy on any approach to Washington was Jackson's force, in front of Banks, in the Shenandoah Valley, with the Manassas Gap Railroad leading from this valley to Washington; and it will be admitted, I presume, that Banks, occupying the Shenandoah Valley, was in the best position to defend, not only that approach to Washington, but the road to Harper's Ferry and above. The number of troops left by me for the defense of Washington, as given in my letter to the Adjutant-General, were taken from the latest official returns of that date, and these, of course, constituted the most trustworthy and authentic source from which such information could be obtained.
Another statement made by General Hitchcock before the Committee on the Conduct of the War in reference to this same order should be noticed. He was asked the following question:
Do you understand now that the movement made by General McClellan to Fort Monroe and up the York River was in compliance with the recommendation of the council of generals commanding corps and held at Fairfax Court-House on the 13th of?
To which he replied as follows:
I have considered, and do now consider, that it was in violation of the recommendation of that council in two important particulars, one particular being that portion of this report which represents the council as agreeing to the expedition by way of the Peninsula, provided the rebel steamer Merrimac could first be neutralized. That important provision General McClellan disregarded.
* * * * * * * * * *
The second particular alluded to by General Hitchcock was in reference to the troops left for the defense of Washington, which has been disposed of above.
In regard to the steamer Merrimac I have also stated that so far as our operations on York River were concerned the power of this vessel was neutralized. I now proceed to give some of the evidence which influenced me in coming to that conclusion.
Previous to our departure for the Peninsula, Mr. Watson, Assistant Secretary of War, was sent by the President to Fort Monroe to consult with Flag-Officer Goldsborough upon this subject. The result of that consultation is contained in the following extract from the evidence of Admiral Goldsborough before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, viz:
I told Mr. Watson, Assistant Secretary of War, that the President might make his mind perfectly easy about the Merrimac going up York River; that she could never get there, for I had ample means to prevent that.
Capt. G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, testifies before the committee as follows:
General McClellan expected the Navy to neutralize the Merrimac, and I promised that it should be done.
General Keyes, commanding Fourth Army Corps, testifies as follows before the committee:
During the time that the subject of the change of base was discussed I had refused to consent to the Peninsula line of operations until I had sent word to the Navy Department and asked two questions: First, whether the Merrimac was certainly neutralized or not. Second, whether the Navy was in a condition to co-operate efficiently with the Army to break through between Yorktown and Gloucester Point. To both of these answers were returned in the affirmative; that is, the Merrimac was neutralized, and the Navy was in a condition to co-operate efficiently to break through between Yorktown and Gloucester Point.
Before starting for the Peninsula I instructed Lieut. Col. B. S. Alexander, of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, to visit Manassas Junction and its vicinity, for the purpose of determining upon the defensive works necessary to enable us to hold that place with a small force. The accompanying letters from Colonel Alexander will show what steps were taken by him to carry into effect this important order. I regret to say that those who succeeded me in command of the region in front of Washington, whatever were the fears for its safety, did not deem it necessary to carry out my plans and instructions to them. Had Manassas been placed in condition for a strong defense and its communications secured, as recommended by Colonel Alexander, the result of General Pope's campaign would probably have been different:
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 2, 1862.
SIR: You will proceed to Manassas at as early a moment as practicable, and mark on the ground the works for the defense of that place on the positions which I indicated to you yesterday. You will find two carpenters experienced in this kind of work ready to accompany you, by calling on Mr. Dougherty, the master carpenter of the Treasury Extension. The general idea of the defense of this position is to occupy the fringe of elevation which lies about half way between Manassas depot and the junction of the railroad with a series of works open to the rear, so that they may be commanded by the work hereafter to be described. There will be at least four of these works, three of them being on the left of the railroad leading from Alexandria, at the positions occupied by the enemy's works; the other on the right of this road, on the position we examined yesterday. The works of the enemy to the north of this latter position, numbered 1 and 2 on Lieutenant Comstock's sketch, may also form a part of the front line of our defense, but the sides of these works looking towards Manassas Station should be leveled, so that the interior of the works may be seen from the latter position. Embrasures should be arranged in all these works for field artillery. The approaches should be such that a battery can drive into the works. The number of embrasures in each battery will depend upon its size and the ground to be commanded. It is supposed there will be from four to eight embrasures in each battery. The other works of the enemy looking towards the east and south may be strengthened, so as to afford sufficient defense in these directions. The work No. 3 in Lieutenant Comstock's sketch may be also strengthened and arranged for field artillery when time will permit. This work is in a good position to cover a retreat, which would be made down the valley in which the railroad runs towards Bull Run. At Manassas Station there should be a fort constructed. The railroad will pass through this fort, and the depot, if there should be one built, should be placed in its rear. This latter work should be regarded as the key to the position. It should be as large as the nature of the ground will permit.
By going down the slopes, which are not steep, it may be made large enough to accommodate 2,000 or 3,000 men. The top of the position need not be cut away it will be better to throw up the earth into a large traverse, which may also be a bombproof. Its profile should be strong and its ditches should be flanked. It should receive a heavy armament of 24 or 32 pounders, with some rifled (Parrott) 20 or 30 pounders. Its guns should command all the exterior works, so that these works could be of no use to the enemy should he take them. In accommodating the fort to the ground this consideration should not be lost sight of. After tracing these works on the ground you will make a sketch embracing the whole of them, showing their relative positions and size. This sketch should embrace the junction of the railroads and the ground for some distance around the main work. It need not be made with extreme accuracy. The distances may be paced or measured with a tape-line. The bearings may be taken by compass. Having located the works and prepared your sketch, you will report to Capt. Frederick E. Prime, of the Corps of Engineers, who will furnish you the means of construction. It is important that these works should be built with the least possible delay. You will therefore expedite matters as fast as possible.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. S. ALEXANDER,
Capt. FRED. R. MUNTHER,
WASHINGTON, April 6, 1862.
SIR: I inclose you herewith a copy of the instructions which I gave to Captain Munther in reference to the defenses of Manassas.
As there has been a new department created (that of the Rappahannock), it is possible that you and I, as well as General McClellan, are relieved from the further consideration of this subject at the present time.
I will, however, state for your information, should the subject ever come before you again, that in my opinion the communication with Manassas by land should be secured.
To effect this in the best manner, so far as my observations extend, I think the bridge over Bull Run near Union Mills and just above the railroad bridge should be rebuilt or thoroughly repaired, and that a small work or two or three open batteries should be erected on the adjacent heights to protect it as well as the railroad bridge.
The communication by land would then be through or near Centreville, over the road used by the enemy.
I write this for fear something should detain me here, but I hope to leave here to join you to-morrow. My health is much improved.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. S. ALEXANDER,
Brig. Gen. J. G. BARNARD,
Chief Engineer, Army of the Potomac.
I may be permitted also to mention that the plans (also unexecuted by my successor) indicated in my letter of instructions to General Banks, dated March 16, 1862, for intrenching Chester-Gap and the point where the Manassas Railroad crosses the Shenandoah, were for the purpose of preventing even the attempt of such a raid as that of Jackson in the month of May following.
MILITARY INCIDENTS OF THE FIRST PERIOD.
Before taking up the history of the embarkation and Peninsula campaign, I should remark that during the fall and winter of 1861-'62, while the Army of the Potomac was in position in front of Washington, reconnaissances were made from time to time, and skirmishes frequently occurred, which were of great importance to the education of the troops, accustoming them to the presence of the enemy, and giving them confidence under fire. There were many instances of individual gallantry displayed in these affairs. The reports of them will be found among the documents which accompany this report.
One of the most brilliant of these affairs was that which took place at Dranesville, on December 20,1861, when the third brigade of McCall's division, under Brig. Gen. E. O. C. Ord, with Easton's battery, routed and pursued four regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and a battery of six pieces.
The operations of Brig. Gen. F. W. Lander, on the Upper Potomac, during the months of January and February, 1862, frustrated the attempts of General Jackson against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Cumberland, &c., and obliged him to fall back to Winchester. His constitution was impaired by the hardships he had experienced, and on the 2d March the fearless General Lander expired, a victim to the excessive fatigue of the campaign.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General, U. S. Army.
Brig. Gen. L. THOMAS,
Adjutant-General U. S. Army.
Source: "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion"
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McCLELLAN'S REPORT PART 3