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the capital, testified before the committee on the conduct of the war in January, 1862: "There was a striking want of generalship on the other side for not following us. If they had followed us they might have come pell-mell into the capital.' The same witness declared that "the troops then were not in a state of sufficient discipline to enable any man living to have had an absolute command of them.”
The defeat at Manassas, in short, was not an ordinary defeat of an army. It was the breaking down of a system.
From the outbreak of the war Lieutenant-General Scott, in virtue of his position at the head of the regular army of the Union, had been at the head also of all the forces called into the field. But he had by no means been permitted to handle these forces as an army, to count upon them in the organization of any complete plan of campaign, or even to organize any such plan. It being considered certain that the war would soon be over, the leading organs and leading politicians of the administration had not shrunk from the responsibility of controlling its conduct. General McDowell testifies before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: "I had begged of the Secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Treasury, who at that time was connected with the Secretary of War in many of the plans and organizations going forward, that I should not be obliged to organize and discipline and march and fight all at the same time. I said that it was too much for any person to do. But they could not help it, or did not help it, and the thing went on until this project of the march on Manassas was broached.”
The same witness testifies that General Scott's plans were discussed in the Cabinet, and adds in respect to one of those plans: "I do not think well of that plan, and was obliged to speak against it in the Cabinet;" thus revealing to us the fact that great military operations, which could only be successfully conducted on the condition of an absolute unity of command and a consequent absolute secresy in respect to their object
and their details, were made the theme of Cabinet meetings where the commander-in-chief was forced into elaborate debate with Aulic councillors, military and civil.
The disaster of Manassas suddenly changed the aspect of affairs. The most careless and ignorant and noisy of the politicians who surrounded the President; the Senators, like Mr. Chandler, of Michigan, whose sufficient theory of the war was summed up in the conviction that "it was a bragging, lying force that the enemy were exhibiting along our lines ;" and the representatives who had voted for an adjournment of Congress to enable them to go to the front and see the spectacle of the overthrow of the rebels at Manassas, were silenced for the moment by the new and ominous look of things.
It became evident that the march to Richmond was to be something more serious than a promenade; that the post of a brigadier-general was likely to be more dangerous if not more honorable than a private station; that plans of warfare organized by secretaries of the treasury, cabinet councils, and vehement journalists, might entail mischief upon their authors as well as upon the country.
It was felt that we were about to have war in earnest; that we must meet it with a real army; and that this army must have a real head.
The spirit of the people rose magnificently to meet the emergency. The indignation which had been excitedly the capture of Fort Sumter, had been unattended by any feeling of humiliation. The flag of the Union had been lowered there indeed to the cannon of an enemy. But it had been lowered only after a gallant resistance to an overwhelming force.
The defeat at Manassas on the contrary was a sectional if not national humiliation. President Davis and his advisers, in restraining General Beauregard from an advance upon Washington, have been commonly held to have done the cause of the Union an unintentional service. It may perhaps be doubted whether they might not have done the cause a far greater
service had they suffered the fiery Creole to work his will. Sternly and swiftly as the Northern people rose in arms to reassert their character for conduct and courage in battle, so shamefully impugned at Manassas, their uprising would probably have been still sterner and more swift had the crowning disgrace of the loss of the capital been inflicted; while that revolution in the military policy and management of the administration, which was only partially effected by the sharp lesson of the 21st of July, 1861, might in that case have been made complete and final.
The appointment of General McClellan to the command vacated by the defeat and the consequent though unjust disgrace of General McDowell, was made at the suggestion of Lieutenant-General Scott. But the general voice of the country reinforced the advice of the veteran commander, and smoothed the President's transition to a saner and more practical system of military administration.
For a time everything was committed to the hands of the young general; for the secretaries of the treasury, Aulic councillors, and vehement journalists who had managed and mismanaged the whole military machinery of the country from the appointment of hospital nurses up to the nomination of major-generals, before the awful day of Manassas, could by no means see their way clearly through the chaos which had since supervened; and were in no wise indisposed to shift the burden of organizing the war upon competent and responsible shoulders.
The work was indeed a labor of Hercules. General McClellan has given but the merest outline of its colossal proportions in the following simple statement of the condition of things at the time when he entered upon the duties of his new position:
"When I assumed command in Washington on the 27th of July, 1861, the number of troops in and around the city was
about 50,000 infantry, less than 1,000 cavalry, and 650 artillerymen, with nine imperfect field-batteries of thirty pieces.
"On the Virginia bank of the Potomac the brigade organization of General McDowell still existed, and the troops were stationed at and in rear of Fort Corcoran, Arlington, and Fort Albany, at Fort Runyon, Roach's Mills, Cole's Mill, and in the vicinity of Fort Ellsworth, with a detachment at the Theological Seminary.
"There were no troops south of Hunting Creek, and many of the regiments were encamped on the low grounds bordering the Potomac,-seldom in the best positions for defence, and entirely inadequate in numbers and condition to defend the long line from Fort Corcoran to Alexandria.
"On the Maryland side of the river, upon the heights overlooking the Chain Bridge, two regiments were stationed, whose commanders were independent of each other.
"There were no troops on the important Tenallytown road, or on the roads entering the city from the south.
"The camps were located without regard to purposes of defence or instruction; the roads were not picketed, and there was no attempt at an organization into brigades.
"In no quarter were the dispositions for defence such as to offer a vigorous resistance to a respectable body of the enemy either in the positions and numbers of the troops, or the number and character of the defensive works. Earthworks in the nature of 'têtes-de-pont' looked upon the approaches to the Georgetown aqueduct and ferry, the Long Bridge, and Alexandria by the Little River Turnpike and some simple defensive arrangements were made at the Chain Bridge. With the latter exception, not a single defensive work had been commenced on the Maryland side.
"There was nothing to prevent the enemy shelling the city from heights, within easy range, which could be occupied by a hostile column almost without resistance. Many soldiers had deserted, and the streets of Washington were crowded
with straggling officers and men, absent from their stations without authority, whose behavior indicated the general want of discipline and organization."
To this let us add, that it was necessary to organize completely and, as the Prince de Joinville very justly says, "without any assistance from the past," the administrative services for provisions, munitions and transports, the artillery reserves, the engineer corps, the pontoon corps, the topographical brigade, the telegraphs and the hospital system for an army of three hundred thousand men, and we may begin to form some fair conception of the task which General McClellan undertook when he accepted the distinction conferred upon him at the end of July, 1861.
Such a conception it is necessary for every man to form, who honestly wishes to understand the part which General McClellan has played in this great war, and to do justice to the ability and the success with which that part has been filled.
The subsequent career of General McClellan as a commander in the field is far more likely to fix the public attention than the story of the months which he passed at Washington, in the later summer and the autumn of 1861, in bringing order out of confusion, system out of chaos, plans and a purpose out of incoherent passion and vainglorious optimism.
But the whole future of the war, so far as concerned its material machinery, was in those months of colossal and almost unrecognized toil. It was in those months that our Western as well as our Eastern armies were planned and moulded into form. Fort Donelson and Vicksburg, Stone River and Chattanooga, as well as Williamsburg and Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill and Antietam, were then preparing, then were made possible.
It may be said by those who have made up their minds not to believe anything good of a general who has become a Democratic candidate for the presidency, that some other commander in the place of General McClellan at this time might