The Situation In July, 1862

        In order to understand the military situation at the time when General Pope was appointed to the command of the Army of Virginia--June 26, 1862--it will be necessary to go back a little.
        The Cabinet of Mr. Lincoln found itself, in the spring of 1862, in the very difficult position of having called to the chief command of the army an officer in whom it did not place entire confidence. The attitude of General McClellan on many points was disliked; his political affiliations were distrusted; his extreme caution, so far as his own movements were concerned--his easy confidence when the matter at stake was the safety of Washington--his startling plan of removing the army to the Peninsula--all combined to awaken alarm, and to deprive him of that cordial support which his great undertaking required in order to be successful. He had even attempted to evade the orders of the President, by taking with him to Yorktown troops supposed to be needed for the defence of Washington; the Government had promptly interfered by detaining the entire corps of McDowell; and, though two divisions of this corps were afterward sent to McClellan, the fact remained that he did not have at the outset of the campaign the overwhelming force on which he had calculated. The irritation caused by this found abundant expression in his correspondence with the President and the Secretary of War.
        This, however, was not the worst consequence of this unfortunate state of things. Not only had Fremont--when, late in the winter, he had been relieved from command in Missouri--been given a considerable force in West Virginia, where a department had been unnecessarily created for his benefit, but, the moment McClellan arrived on the Peninsula, McDowell and Banks were detached from his control --the former being assigned to a new department, that of the Rappahannock, and the latter to another new department, that of the Shenandoah Valley. Here, then, were four separate and independent commands in Virginia, on the same theatre of war--a condition of things, it is safe to say, most unfavorable to military success.
        Nevertheless, after McClellan arrived on the Chickahominy, on May 24th, the plan was that McDowell, who still retained three divisions of his corps--Franklin's having been sent to McClellan--together with Shields' division of Banks' corps, which had been transferred to McDowell's command, should join the Army of the Potomac from Fredericksburg. In pursuance of this plan, Porter had occupied Hanover Court House after a successful action, and the distance between the two forces was reduced to a matter of only twenty or thirty miles. Before the union was effected, however, Jackson made his brilliant raid in the Valley of the Shenandoah, driving the diminished force of Banks before him, and creating such alarm in Washington, that, despite the earnest remonstrance of McDowell, the plan for reinforcing McClellan from Fredericksburg was abandoned, and McDowell was ordered to strike across the country to intercept, if possible, the retreat of Jackson. In this movement Fremont participated; but, despite their best efforts, Jackson, though obliged to contest in some actions the possession of his line of retreat, made good his escape. He lingered, however, in the upper part of the valley, and detained so many of our troops there that the concentration of such a strong force at Fredericksburg as had been collected in May, though attempted by McDowell, could not be effected. McCall's division of McDowell's corps was, indeed, sent to McClellan; but Jackson's raid had postponed indefinitely all hope of the Army of the Potomac being reinforced by any large force coming from the North. When satisfied that this, his chief object, had been effected, Jackson joined the main army under Lee, and almost immediately, in charge of the left wing of the enemy, conducted the turning movement against our right, which resulted in the abandonment of our base on the Pamunkey, and the establishment of a new base on the James.
        On the very day, June 26, 1862, when this movement was commenced by the action at Mechanicsville, near Richmond, the forces under Generals Fremont, Banks, and McDowell, were consolidated into one army, called the Army of Virginia, and Major-General John Pope, United States Volunteers, was assigned by the President to the chief command.
        The numbers and composition of these corps were approximately as follows:

First Corps--Sigel

First Division  Schenck
Third Division  Schurz  
Independent Brigade  Milroy  11,500

Second Corps--Banks

First Division  Williams  
Second Division  Augur  14,500

Third Corps--McDowell

First Division  King  
Second Division  Ricketts  18,500


Bayard  -- --
Buford  -- 5,000
Total -- 49,500

        Of the officers commanding we may here say a few words. General Pope was a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, of the Class of 1842, and a veteran of the Mexican war, in which he had been brevetted for his services at Monterey and Buena Vista; he had distinguished himself in the operations resulting in the capture of Island No. 10, in the Mississippi River, in the spring of 1862. General Sigel--who had succeeded to the command of Fremont's corps, Fremont having resigned because Pope, his junior, was put over him--was a German officer, who had had some military training and experience; he had recently served with some distinction in Missouri. General Banks was a civilian, who had been Governor of Massachusetts and Speaker of the National House of Representatives. His appointment to the command of a corps was certainly a hazardous experiment. He was a brave and zealous officer, but destitute of military judgment. McDowell, like Pope, was a graduate of West Point, of the Class of 1838, was also a veteran of the Mexican war, and, like Pope, had been brevetted for services at Buena Vista. In the year 1861 he had commanded the army in front of Washington, and had lost the battle of Bull Run. He was well known to be an excellent officer.
        These forces were widely scattered. The corps of Fremont and Banks were in the Valley of the Shenandoah. Of the two divisions of McDowell, one, King's, was at Fredericksburg; the other, Ricketts', was at Manassas Junction.
        General Pope at once took measures for a concentration of his army. Sigel was ordered to cross the Shenandoah Valley at Front Royal, pass through the Luray Gap and take post at Sperryville. Banks was ordered to pass the river and mountains at the same place, and to take up his position near Little Washington, a few miles N. E. of Sperryville. By an oversight of a staff officer, he marched to Warrenton, but speedily returned to his post. Ricketts' division, of McDowell's corps, was ordered from Manassas Junction to Waterloo Bridge, where the turnpike from Warrenton to Sperryville crosses the Rappahannock.
        These movements seem to have been judicious; the presence of such a large force near Front Royal Gap, supported as they were by other troops, and with communications with Alexandria by the Warrenton pike, would doubtless hinder the enemy from undertaking a raid in the valley.
        As for King's division of McDowell's corps, Pope was obliged for the present, against his own judgment, to leave it at Fredericksburg. The Government deemed it of great importance to retain the line of communication on the north side of the Rappahannock, above Fredericksburg, and to preserve the railroad between Aquia Creek and Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg. It is hardly necessary to say that considerations of this sort were, as General Pope justly thought, not worth taking into account in the presence of such a problem as that which confronted the commander of the new Army of Virginia. It was of the first importance that he should be unfettered in his movements so far as was possible. The preservation of the Government property at Aquia Creek and Fredericksburg was a matter of small consequence, and the troops arriving from the Peninsula might as well have been landed at Alexandria as at Aquia Creek.
        These dispositions having been made, some time had to be spent in reorganizing the army, portions of which, especially the corps of Sigel and the cavalry., needed considerable attention.
        Meantime the military situation had entirely changed. General McClellan had been forced, by the loss of the battle of Gaines' Mill, to give up his base on the Pamunkey; and, though his army had well held its own in the obstinate battles which followed, yet the movement to the James was universally felt to be a confession of the failure of the campaign. It is needless to say that the distrust felt by the Government toward General McClellan had become intensified, and that his hostility to and suspicion of certain members of the administration had increased in proportion. Besides, not only did the position taken by him on the James put the entire force of the enemy between his army and that of General Pope, but this military separation was accompanied by an entire lack of confidence between the two officers. Pope had very sensibly suggested, while the seven days' battles were in progress, that McClellan should preserve his communications on the Pamunkey, and fall back on White House; but this suggestion met with no approval from McClellan. After the line of the James had been adopted, Pope took some pains to bring about a cordial understanding with McClellan, but it soon became evident that the latter aimed solely at getting such reinforcements for his own army as would make him entirely independent of any extrinsic aid.
        Under these circumstances, the armies of the United States in Virginia being hopelessly separated, and the army of General Lee being large, well commanded, and elated with victory, the Government determined to call to the general direction of military affairs an officer whose reputation at that time stood very high, and who was in no way connected with politics--General Henry W. Halleck. Under his general management the States of Kentucky and Tennessee had been recovered, and combined movements of the land and naval forces had secured to us the control of the Mississippi River as far south as Vicksburg. He was a West Point graduate, of the Class of 1839, was not actively engaged in the Mexican War, and soon after left the army. He was a student of military matters and of international law, and had produced some quite valuable books; but he was not a practical soldier at, any time, and his lack of vigor and decision, as well as of sound military sense, gravely imperilled, as we shall have occasion to see, the fate of this campaign. He was appointed, on July 11th, General-in-Chief of all the armies of the United States, but did not arrive in Washington and assume control until the latter part of the month.
        General Pope in the meantime was in Washington, conferring with the authorities there, and from thence issuing orders to his army in the field. It is probable that, until the arrival of General Halleck, his advice was largely relied on by the President and Cabinet. At any rate, in Washington he remained till July 29th.
        During this time he pushed his forces nearer to the enemy, and attempted to interfere with their railroad communications. King was ordered to break up the Virginia Central Railroad, and the expeditions which he sent out accomplished their mission. On July 14th, Banks was instructed to send a brigade to Culpeper, and Hatch, who commanded the car-ally of his corps, was ordered to seize Gordonsville, where the Virginia Central meets the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and to destroy the railroad for ten or fifteen miles east of that place, and also to break up the road in the direction of Charlottesville. Had Hatch carried out his instructions, the result would have been a very serious, though perhaps temporary interruption of the enemy's communications, and there was no good reason why the movement, as ordered, should not have been successful; but Hatch, instead of attempting it with cavalry only, took with him infantry and artillery also, and, before he reached the immediate neighborhood of Gordonsville, it was occupied by the enemy in force. A second expedition to the vicinity of Charlottesville met with no better success.
        The fact is, that the possession of Gordonsville was of the first importance to the enemy. Through that town ran the railroad which connects Richmond with the Shenandoah Valley. As soon as the expeditions sent out by King, of which we have just spoken, threatened this important line, Lee, though the whole Army of the Potomac was within twenty-five miles of Richmond, did not hesitate, on July 13th, to despatch to Gordonsville his most trusted lieutenant, the justly celebrated Stonewall Jackson, with two divisions--his own (so-called), commanded by Winder, and Ewell's, comprising together about 14,000 or 15,000 men. It was this force that forestalled Hatch. Then, on July 27th, A. P. Hill was ordered up with his division, raising Jackson's force to something between 20,000 and 25,000 men.
        While these events were taking place, General Pope issued to his troops a proclamation, the full text of which will be found in the Appendix. Probably no address that was ever issued to an army created such a storm of hostile criticism as this did. It was supposed to draw injurious comparisons between the troops of the West and those of the East. It was taken to exhibit a contempt for all military rules in the management of a campaign. Finally, it was considered bombastic and egotistic to an unheard of degree. Probably General Pope was more astonished than any one else at this result. He issued the order to the army, as he tells us, "with the purpose to create in it a feeling of confidence and a cheerful spirit which were sadly wanting;" and he never had, as he goes on to say, the slightest thought of reflecting upon the Army of the Potomac. The effect on the troops, however, was as has been stated, and General Pope unquestionably entered upon his campaign heavily handicapped.
        He had also issued certain orders, the full text of which is given in the Appendix, directing the troops of his command to subsist on the country so far as practicable. These orders were, perhaps purposely, misconstrued to Pope's discredit. It is expressly provided in them that supplies shall be taken by the officers of the department to which they properly belonged (the commissariat), and only under the orders of the officer commanding the troops. Nevertheless, many persons asserted that they countenanced indiscriminate pillage, which was entirely untrue. To these orders (Nos. 5 and 6), no valid exception can be taken.
        Another order, of which the text will also be found in the Appendix (No. 7), provides that non-combatants in the rear of the army shall be responsible in damages for injuries done to the track of railroads, attacks on trains, assaults on soldiers, etc., committed by guerillas--that is, by individuals not enlisted among the organized military forces of the enemy. Any injuries to tracks, etc., are to be repaired by the neighbors, or an indemnity paid; so, where soldiers are fired on from a house, the house shall be razed to the ground, and the occupants of it treated as prisoners. Harsh as these measures may seem to those who believe themselves to be defending their homes from an invader, it is certain that they are clearly warranted by the laws of civilized warfare. The only safety for the non-combatant population of an invaded country consists in the rule by which they are forbidden acts of private hostility.
        There was still another order (No. 11), of which the text is also given in the Appendix. This provided that the oath of allegiance should be tendered to all male citizens in the lines of the army; that those who, after having taken it, violated it, should be shot, and that those who refused to take it should be sent beyond the lines of the army, with the threat of being treated as spies if they returned to their homes. For this order, it must be conceded, there is absolutely no justification. A commander in the field has nothing to do with allegiance, or oaths of allegiance, in his treatment of the enemy. He can only apply to them the well-recognized laws of war as explained above, namely, that all combatants belonging to the organized forces of the enemy shall be treated as prisoners of war, and shall be entitled to the immunities and respect shown to prisoners of war, and that all private warfare shall be repressed by the use of as much severity as may be found necessary to suppress it--but that is all. No one ever heard of the Germans tendering to the French villagers the oath of allegiance to the king of Prussia; and the only controversy on this subject of any consequence, in the late France-German war, was caused by the doubt whether the francs-tireurs were, or were not, such a part of the organized military, forces of France, as to be entitled to the treatment, when captured, of prisoners of war. General Pope's authority on this subject was not enlarged in the slightest degree by the opinion which he entertained, or which his government entertained, that the enemy with whom he was fighting was in rebellion against the United States. He was not there as a United States marshal, acting under the orders of a court, and arresting persons against whom a grand jury had found indictments for treason; but he was there as an officer of the army in the field, against an enemy in arms and entitled to be treated in all respects as a foreign foe.
        While General Pope was in Washington, General Halleck was called upon to decide the difficult question of the advisability of removing the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula. The question was not a purely military one. Had it been, it could have been more easily decided; it was, in great measure, a personal question--that is, it turned on the capacity of certain officers to carry out their allotted tasks. Hence arose the chief difficulty of arriving at a decision.
        Let us explain this. Had the Government had the same confidence in General McClellan which they had two years later in General Grant, the Army of the Potomac would, without much doubt, have been allowed to remain at Harrison's Landing, and would have been reinforced in the late summer and autumn sufficiently to enable it to take the offensive and operate, from the very advantageous position which it occupied, on either side of the James River. But such was not the case. The distrust of General McClellan was greater than ever--and there were several reasons for this.
His campaign had been characterized by an assumption on his part that he was entitled to deal on an equal footing with the Government, as a sort of contracting party. Instead of doing his work as well as he could with the means he had or could procure, he was constantly attempting to drive the Administration into a corner; to fasten upon it the responsibility for the ill-success of his military movements; to threaten it, even, with the consequences of this or that failure to do what he desired. Such a method of procedure on the part of a general is wholly without precedent, and a government which understood its position would not have put up with it for a moment. Let a general, by all means, advise his superiors of all material facts, and warn them in the strongest terms of the consequences of such or such acts, but let him never forget that the distribution of the responsibility for military failures is not for him to undertake; it is the task of posterity; it is his to do his best, let the consequences be what they may. As an illustration of what we mean, look at McClellan's letter to Mr. Stanton, of June 14th, where he says, in reference to McDowell's troops: "If I cannot fully control all his troops, I want none of them, but would prefer to fight the battle with what I have, and let others be responsible for the results.'' Such a remark as this shows his egotism to be excessive indeed. He actually says that he wants to have his preferences gratified, whatever may be the consequences to the country.
.--It was impossible not to discern in General McClellan's attitude toward the Administration a distinct political bias. He belonged to the Democratic party--the party which desired to prevent the slavery question from complicating the question now at issue in the field--that of the authority of the nation. He may, or may not, have been right as to this; but it is very plain that, as a commander of an army, it was none of his business. Nothing is better settled than the desirability of the entire subordination of the military to the civil power in a free country; yet we find McClellan, on July 7th, writing from Harrison's Landing a long letter to the President, in which he gives him his views on the way in which the war should be conducted in reference to the institution of slavery; that "military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master, except for repressing disorder, as in other cases," etc. These views may, or may not, have been sound--it is not our province to pronounce on them at all; but it is clear that a general officer, thus going out of his way to write a long letter on the policy of the Government in regard to slavery, has taken sides in politics, which a military man in the field should never do. In fact, his friends were at this time presenting him to the country as the great Democratic general, and in two years he was the party candidate for the Presidency. Had Mr. Lincoln removed him from the command immediately on the receipt of this letter, it would have been not only justifiable, but wise in the end.
It was impossible, for any one who had carefully watched the campaign, to feel any great confidence that McClellan ever would accomplish anything. He never was satisfied with the advantages he possessed, or with the numbers he commanded at any particular time. There was always something remaining to be done before he was ready to move. Add to this an entire absence of that clear and cool judgment which is essential to the accomplishment of all difficult matters in this world. What we refer to may be well illustrated by the fact that, in the course of a single fortnight, McClellan had in one telegram told the Secretary of War that his numbers were greatly inferior to those of the enemy; that he would, however, do all that a general could do with his army, and if it was destroyed by overwhelming numbers he could at least die with it and share its fate; in another telegram, that he (the Secretary) must hope for the best, and he (McClellan) would not deceive the hopes he formerly placed in him; in another telegram, that if he had ten thousand fresh troops he could take Richmond, yet, that he lost this battle because his force was too small; that the Secretary had done his best to sacrifice the army; and three days after he had taken up his position at Harrison's Landing, in this same fortnight, he found time to lay before the President, in an elaborate letter, his views on the slavery question, in the course of which he actually said that "a declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, would rapidly disintegrate our present armies." This letter winds up with this curious declaration: "I may be on the brink of eternity, and, as I hope for forgiveness from my Maker, I have written this letter with sincerity toward you and from love for my country."
        Enough has been said to show that the Administration could not feel that in McClellan the country had a really able, or a really single-minded servant. There might be, and there was, evidence of ability and character in him; but we have shown that there were sufficient reasons to prevent entire confidence being reposed in him by the President and Cabinet.
        At the same time, such was the political situation that the Government did not dare to remove him. There was enough to justify his removal, as we have seen; but political feeling in his favor ran high. Still, the breach between him and the administration had become too wide ever to be healed; the Government could not, it was plain, continue him in his command, reinforce him, and rely on him as their chief general; and there was no one of conspicuous fitness whom they could put in his place. What then could be done? The army might be removed to Northern Virginia, portions of it might from time to time be incorporated in the army under General Pope, and if that officer made a successful campaign, the difficulty as to McClellan would settle itself. In a correspondence between Halleck and McClellan on this sub-jeer, Halleck, it is true, proceeds upon the supposition that McClellan's estimate of the numbers of the enemy, two hundred thousand men, is correct; and argues that the army could not be kept on the Peninsula in that climate till it could be reinforced to anything like that number. But the great difficulty about the question of removal was one which could not be stated; the Government had lost confidence in General McClellan, and the removal of the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula provided them with a convenient mode of disposing of their superfluous general.
        The removal of the army was determined on, General Pope tells us, before he left Washington for the front, on July 29th. It was probably the visit of General Halleck to Harrison's Landing, on the 25th, which settled it. On the 30th, McClellan was ordered to send away his sick. On August 3d, he was told that the whole army was to be sent to Aquia Creek. The next day he wrote an able letter to Halleck, remonstrating against the removal; urging his proximity to Richmond; that the reinforcement of the army was a far cheaper and wiser course than removing it to the neighborhood of Fredericksburg; that the army would be more or less demoralized by the movement; and finally, that it was the true policy of the Government to place all the other departments on the defensive, and strike their most powerful blow against Richmond. To this Halleck replied at length, dwelling, as we have said before, on the impossibility of reinforcing the army in any reasonable space of time, to any large extent, and pressing strongly upon General McClellan's attention the advantage possessed by General Lee of operating against either McClellan or Pope, as he chose, and with an army superior to that of either. Here the correspondence closed, and the task of removing the army began.
        When General Pope left Washington, on July 29th, the destination of the Army of the Potomac had been decided. The task imposed on Pope was to prevent a concentration of Lee's army upon our forces on the Peninsula, while in the confusion incident to the removal, and while the corps composing them were separated. He proceeded at once to the execution of this task, threatening Gordonsville again, and this time not as before, with a small body of cavalry, but with a powerful force of more than 30,000 men. After reviewing and inspecting his various corps, he, on August 7th, ordered the division of Ricketts to join Crawford's brigade of Williams' division of Banks' corps at Culpeper Court House. The remainder of Banks' corps he pushed south from their position at Little Washington to where the Sperryville and Culpeper turnpike crosses Hazel River, a point about half-way between these two towns. The cavalry of Buford, supported by one brigade from Sigel's corps, observed the right, with headquarters at Madison Court House. Bayard, with four regiments, watched the left, his headquarters being at Rapidan Station. Both were excellent officers. Cavalry pickets were stationed at intervals along the Rapidan to its union with the Rappahannock, just above Fredericksburg. A signal-station was established on Thoroughfare Mountain--a precaution which, as we shall afterward see, was of great service. These dispositions were intended chiefly to provide against an attack by the enemy on his right, Buford having reported the enemy as crossing the Rapidan westward of the railroad, and advancing in heavy force upon Madison Court House. But, considering also the probability of an attempt being made to turn his left by way of Raccoon Ford and Stevensburg, and also to interrupt his communications with General King at Fredericksburg, Pope, on the 8th, ordered Banks and Sigel to move to Culpeper Court House. Banks obeyed promptly, reaching that place at eleven at night. Sigel, however, instead of marching at once, sent word to inquire by what road he should march, when there was but one road, and that a turnpike, between Sperryville and Culpeper; and, in consequence of his blunder, his corps did not arrive till the afternoon of the next day.
        Besides these corps, Pope, on the 8th, ordered Crawford's brigade of Williams' division of Banks' corps, which, it will be remembered, had been at Culpeper some days, forward some eight miles to the neighborhood of Cedar (or Slaughter) Mountain, on the road to Orange Court House, to act as a support to Buford's cavalry. Ricketts' division of McDowell's corps was also ordered to move some three miles south of Culpeper Court House. Early the next morn-Jug, the 9th, Banks received orders to move the remainder of his corps to the front, where Crawford's brigade already was--that is, near Cedar Mountain. We shall recur later to the orders given to Banks; it is time now to turn to see what Jackson was doing.
        "Having received information," says that officer in his report, "that only a part of General Pope's army was at Culpeper Court House, and hoping, through the blessing of Providence, to be able to defeat it before reinforcements should arrive there, Ewell's, Hill's, and Jackson's divisions were moved on the 7th, in the direction of the enemy, from their respective encampments near Gordonsville ..... " "On the 9th, as we arrived within about eight miles of Culpeper Court House we found the enemy in our front, near Cedar Run, a short distance west and north of Slaughter's (Cedar) Mountain." The first battle of the campaign was at hand.
Source: "The Army Under Pope", Chapter I, By John Codman Ropes

This page last updated 11/24/02