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THE REMOVAL TO ACQUIA CREEK. THE FAILURE OF POPE'S CAMPAIGN. GENERAL MCCLELLAN TAKES CHARGE OF THE ARMY. THE CAMPAIGN OF MARYLAND.
THE history of the eventful week which followed the arrival of General McClellan at Acquia Creek in August, 1862, cannot be adequately set forth within the limits of this volume. That week was such a carnival of incapacity as the world has seldom seen. The Aulic council at Washington and their favorite commander in the field, General Pope, had now invited upon themselves precisely such a blow as that which they had enabled the enemy a month before to deliver upon the Army of the Potomac.
Recalling General McClellan from Harrison's Bar, they had liberated Lee for a campaign in the North. So swift had been the movements of the Confederate general, and so stolidly stubborn were the Aulic council and General Pope in the belief that Lee was not moving at all, that the Federal "Army of Virginia" was struck by his decisive advance after the 18th of August as by a thunderbolt. Beaten wherever he was found, utterly bewildered by the manoeuvres of his enemy, and clinging firmly to the one notion which happened to be of all notions possible to him the most dangerously erroneous, that he was dealing not with the main body of the rebel forces but with a flying column, General Pope had so completely entangled himself with his own line of operations, that when
General McClellan arrived at Acquia Creek and telegraphed to General Halleck for information as to the whereabouts of General Pope and as to his own future position and responsibilities, the general-in-chief could only reply ignominiously enough: "You ask me for information which I cannot give. I do not know either where General Pope is or where the enemy in force is. These are matters which I have been all day most anxious to ascertain.”
Matters worth knowing to a general-in-chief these certainly were; but the legitimate curiosity of General Halleck was destined to be gratified only by the newly-arrived general upon whom he had been unable to find time, ten days before, to bestow the commonest courtesies of official life.
On the 27th of August General Halleck again telegraphed to General McClellan: "I can get no satisfactory information from the front, either from the enemy or our troops. There seems to have been great neglect and carelessness about Manassas. Franklin's corps should march in that direction as soon as possible. A competent officer should be sent out to take the direction of affairs in that vicinity." Of the commander of the "Army of Virginia" he telegraphed on the same day this astounding piece of information: "Pope's headquarters are at Warrenton Junction, but I cannot ascertain the present position of his troops !"
A "competent officer" was evidently needed still nearer the headquarters of the army. Two days afterward General McClellan was again applied to for information concerning the army which he had been displaced from command to reinforce, and this time by the President himself, who had given that army its being, and had himself selected its commanding officer. The President's telegram is quite pathetic in its utter helplessness:
What news from Manassas Junction? What, generally? ABRAHAM LINCOLN,
Now in these four days of utter bewilderment and despair at the headquarters of the army in Washington, General McClellan had received from those headquarters an abundance of contradictory and for the most part flagrantly inexecutable orders, emanating sometimes from the gallopping headquarters of the Army of Virginia, and sometimes from the befogged administration of the war office. Precisely what forces he commanded, or whether he still held any command at all, he was utterly unable to ascertain.
To move any troops to the assistance of General Pope, unless in such force and under such conditions as should enable them to make an independent fight of their own, was clearly to expose the army to annihilation, for General Pope had completely lost all conception of anything like a general plan of operations. On the 23d of August he had burned Rappahannock Station without giving any notice to Generals Morell and Sykes, of General Porter's corps, who were then watching the fords of the Lower Rappahannock; and on the 27th of August he had destroyed Gen. Taylor's New Jersey Brigade by flinging it into the face of a whole Confederate army corps at Bull Run, under the firm belief that he was marching it against a scouting party of cavalry.
Such was the utter incoherence of the operations of General Pope indeed, and so feverish the alternation of senseless confidence and equally senseless alarm at Washington, that both the capital and the army must have been sacrificed, had a less clear-headed officer or one of less moral courage in the face of an ill-defined responsibility and an imminent peril, occupied the anomalous position held by General McClellan at Alexandria, whither he had been summoned nominally to superintend the forwarding of troops to General Pope, but really, as the President in another lamentable telegram of August 29th had notified him, to "assist General Halleck by his counsels in controlling affairs."
This telegram was sent in reply to one from General Mc
Clellan, calling upon the President to decide upon one of two courses, and either to concentrate all the available forces not yet involved by General Pope in his bewildered retreat, for the purpose of opening communications with that general; or to abandon the attempt to ascertain what General Pope was trying to do with his army, and to concentrate upon Washington, making the capital safe as a place of refuge for Pope's beaten forces, and as the base of new operations to recover the ground lost by him.
The President, who had been so eager to act as commanderin-chief, when the skies seemed to be clear and auspicious of victory, shrank from his duty now, and threw the responsibility of action upon General Halleck, his nominal general-in-chief, and upon General McClellan, whom he had just deprived of his army.
In the exercise of this somewhat vaguely defined authority, General McClellan ventured to save the forces under General Franklin and General Sumner from marching out, as General Halleck had ordered them to do, quite in the dark, and in an inadequate state of preparation against an enemy of unknown strength. For doing this he was reprimanded at the time by General Halleck, and has since been frequently taken to task by the partisans of the administration. But nothing is more certain than that an immediate and unquestioning execution of General Halleck's first, and by no means peremptory, directions in regard to these forces would simply have involved them in the disastrous finale of General Pope's campaign, which culminated in the second battle of Bull Run, fought on the 30th of August; and that Washington itself would, in that event, have been exposed, in a state of absolute helplessness, to the triumphant Confederates.
How this battle of Bull Run was fought and lost can only be understood from a careful study of two reports not now fairly accessible to the public, the reports of General Fitz-John Porter and of General Sykes.
Suffice it to say, that at two o'clock in the afternoon of that fatal day General McClellan was telegraphed to from Washington to send forward " ammunition for artillery" to General Pope, he having neither ammunition wagons nor even any information as to the calibre of Pope's artillery. When it is remembered that General Pope's army had been organized at Washington in the month of June; that its commander had been in high favor with the authorities at Washington, and in direct communication with them until, by his own signal incapacity, he had involved himself helplessly in the toils of Longstreet and of Lee; and that General McClellan had reached Alexandria a deposed commander, under the cloud of official displeasure, only three days before this second battle of Bull Run was delivered, it must be admitted that no such tribute has ever been paid to the military genius of a commander as is paid to that of General McClellan by those friends of the administration, who insist that he ought to have been able to intervene at the eleventh hour without a soldier at his back, or a ray of official light on his path, between the distracted forces of General Pope and the ruin upon which their leader was hurrying them!
This of course he could not do, nor was he permitted to do what alone he could have done and what he earnestly desired to do, pass to the front with his old soldiers of the Potomac and share their fate with them.
Late on the night of August 30th, as the tidings of Pope's complete overthrow began to come in, General McClellan telegraphed to General Halleck :
"I cannot express to you the pain and mortification I have experienced to-day in listening to the distant sound of the firing of my men. As I can be of no further use here, I respectfully ask that if there is a probability of the conflict being renewed to-morrow, I may be permitted to go to the scene of battle with my staff, merely to be with my own men, if noth. ing more; they will fight none the worse for my being with