« PrejšnjaNaprej »
command the Army of the Potomac, but the remark was made with entire sincerity.
General Burnside's feelings at this time may be clearly understood by the language which he used in a letter that he wrote to one of his friends, under date of November 21, 1862. "You," he wrote, "who know how much I feel any responsibility placed upon me, can readily imagine how much of my time is occupied with this enormous command. You will remember that when I was with you in the field with a comparatively small command, I felt that I could do nothing of myself, and I then felt, more than ever in my life, the need of an entire reliance upon an all-wise Creator. But now the responsibility is so great that at times I tremble at the thought of assuming that I am able to exercise so large a command. Yet, when I think that I have made no such assumption; that I have shunned the responsibility, and only accepted it when I was ordered to do it, and when it would have been disloyal and unfriendly to our government not to do it, then I take courage, and I approach our Heavenly Father with freedom and trustfulness, confident that if I can act honestly and industriously, constantly asking His protection and assistance, all will be well, no matter how dark everything now seems to me." In the spirit of such a noble self-distrust and of such a complete faith in Divine Providence did General Burnside take command of the Army of the Potomac.
It was a vast responsibility. All the forces that were guarding the Upper Potomac, and those that were in the defences around Washington, were then subject to the orders of the general commanding this army. Not only was General Burnside to fight the foe immediately before him, but he was also to guard the approaches to the Capital by flank and rear. In round numbers, there were, on the 10th of November, two hundred and twenty-five thousand men, fit for duty, distributed around the points which have been named. Of these, one hundred and twenty-seven thousand five hundred and seventy-four officers and men were in the immediate front facing the enemy.
The command of this immediate army was a position and duty of no small magnitude. It was a force which must be effectively used upon the foes of the country. It must not be allowed to remain inactive. Though the season was now far advanced, and the frequent storms that had prevailed seemed to indicate that winter had set in, it was yet hoped that a decisive blow might be struck. Early in the autumn a levy of three hundred thousand men, for nine months' service, had been made, and it would be ruinous to the finances and faith of the country to leave this immense force unemployed. The country, the President and the General-in-Chief had been impatient of the slow policy which General McClellan had seen fit to adopt, and it was deemed best that the Army of the Potomac should take the aggressive. General Burnside believed that there was ample time yet to carry on a campaign against Richmond. The military strength of the Union seemed to lie in the Army of the Potomac. He who could lead that army to a victory, which would break the military power of the rebellion residing in General Lee's " Army of Northern Virginia," would be hailed as the deliverer of the Republic. Such a victory would be a great public benefit, as well as a prize brilliant enough to satisfy any man's ambition. But it could not be won by any hand that derived its strength from personal ambition. Whatever was to be done must be done with a spirit of humble, loyal, faithful duty.
Having received the order assigning him to the command of the Army of the Potomac, General Burnside's next step was to devise some plan for future operations. A movemeut upon Gordonsville, or even upon Culpepper, appeared hardly feasible, as it was liable to the risk of fighting an uncertain battle at a distance from the base. It is most probable that General McClellan had been contemplating a movement in a different direction, as on the 6th of November, before he had been relieved of command, he had given orders for the removal of his ponton train from Berlin to Washington, with a view to its
further use at a subsequent and early day.* General Haupt, the superintendent of transportation, did not report encouragingly respecting the condition of the railroad from Alexandria for forwarding supplies. The President, in his letter of October 13th, had very strongly expressed his opinion respecting the proper route of the army towards Richmond. This letter was placed in General Burnside's hands at the same time with the order assigning him to the command. The suggestions thus made were not indeed to be considered as orders, but rather as indications of the President's plan of action. Of course, they had all the weight which Mr. Lincoln's sagacity and position could give to them. Some of them already had been followed. The army had moved down the east side of Blue Ridge, quite near to the enemy, "disabling him from making any important move without" the knowledge of the general commanding our army, and "compelling him to keep his forces together for dread of" us. But Mr. Lincoln had suggested another operation, viz.: moving upon the chord of a circle, while the enemy was moving upon the arc. He had
* General McClellan, in his report, endeavors to make the impression, without directly asserting it, that he was about to fight a great battle with the enemy at the time of his removal from the command. An examination of his language will show that he does not distinctly state that it was his real intention to fight. He hoped that he could either“ separate the enemy's army and beat it in detail,” or else force him to "concentrate as far back as Gordonsville, and thus place the Army of the Potomac in position either to adopt the Fredericksburg line of advance upon Richmond or to be removed to the Peninsula.” "Had I remained in command," he says again, "I should have made the attempt to divide the enemy." Afterwards he declares that he followed the retreating enemy to a position where he was "confident of decisive victory, when in the midst of the movement, while" the "advance guard was actually in contact with the enemy," he was removed from command. His plan to divide the enemy was to march in between Culpepper Court House and Little Washington. Its success was problematical. He certainly had the Fredericksburg route in mind, and was preparing for it by ordering his ponton bridge to Washington, there to be put upon wheels and be in readiness to march at once. This train was certainly not intended for an early advance towards Gordonsville. What he says about his advance guard was entirely irrelevant, inasmuch as it had been "in contact with the enemy" from the day it had crossed the Potomac. At the time he was relieved, there were no indications of an impending engagement.
also expressly mentioned Fredericksburg as one of the places or points through which this chord passed, and within easy and uninterrupted communication with Washington and other parts of the country, by way of the railroad to Aquia Creek and the Potomac river.
With these suggestions in mind, General Burnside prepared his plan of operations. Accompanying the order assigning him to the command was an order from General Halleck, directing him to report what he "purposed doing with" his troops. On the 9th of November General Burnsitle prepared his plan, and on the 10th sent it to Washington by Major E. M. Neill, who, on the 11th, delivered it to General G. W. Cullum, General Halleck's Chief of Staff. That plan can best be stated in General Burnside's own words. It was as follows:
"In accordance with the order of the General in Chief, of the 5th inst., I have the honor to make the following report of the movement proposed for this army:
"To concentrate all the forces near this place, and impress upon the enemy a belief that we are to attack Culpepper or Gordonsville, and at the same time accumulate a four or five days' supply for the men and animals. Then make a rapid move of the whole force to Fredericksburg, with a view to a movement upon Richmond from that point. The following are my reasons for deciding upon this plan:
"If we move upon Culpepper and Gordonsville, with a fight there, or a general engagement, even with results in our favor, the enemy will have many lines of retreat for his defeated army, and will in all likelihood be able to reach Richmond with enough of his force to render it necessary to fight another battle at that place, and should he leave even one corps, with cavalry, on our right flank, it would render the pursuit very precarious, owing to the great lack of supplies in this country, and the liability to an interruption of our communications with Washington. Should the enemy retreat in the direction of Richmond upon our approach to Culpepper and Gordonsville, we would simply follow a retreating army well supplied with
provisions, at least at depots in his rear, whilst this army would have to rely upon a long line of communications for its supplies, and as in the other case, a small portion of the enemy's force on our flank might tend to interrupt our communieations. It may be well to add here, while on the subject of interrupted communications, that the enemy's sources for gaining information are far superior to our own. The General in Chief will readily understand the reason-the difference is more than usual in their favor at present, from the fact that. nearly all the negroes are being run South, and kept under strict guard. Should the enemy retreat before us in the direction of Staunton and Lynchburg, the same difficulty would follow, with the certainty that he would also have a small portion of his force on our left flank. In moving by way of Fredericksburg, there is no point up to the time when we should reach that place at which we will not be nearer to Washington than the enemy, and we will all the time be on the shortest road to Richmond, the taking of which, I think, should be the great object of the campaign, as the fall of that place would tend more to cripple the rebel cause than almost any other military event except the absolute breaking up of their army. The presence of a large army on the Fredericksburg line would render it almost impossible for the enemy to make a successful move upon Washington, by any road upon this side of the Potomac. I take it that there are forces enough at Washington, and on the line of the Potomac connected with the fortifications about Washington, to repulse any movement of the enemy on the Capital by way of the Upper Potomac. It is hardly probable that he would attempt any serious invasion of Pennsylvania at this season of the year, and even should he make a lodgement in that State of any force that he can spare, the destruction of that force would be the result very soon after winter sets in. The destruction of property by him would be small in comparison with the other expenses of the " Could the army before Richmond be beaten and the rebe taken, the loss of half a dozen of our towns and ci