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THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION ISSUED BY
GENERAL MCCLELLAN CROSSES THE POTOMAC.
SOMETHING Of course must be pardoned to men who, being no more than mortal, found themselves in the humiliating posi tion into which the official superiors of General McClellan had now, by their real inferiority to that officer, been brought. The campaigns of Pope in Virginia, and McClellan in Maryland, had demonstrated this inferiority, not merely to all other competent observers, but to these official superiors themselves. The President and General Halleck knew that but for General McClellan and the army which he alone had been able to hold together, the beginning of September would have seen them fugitives from Washington or prisoners in Richmond: and it would be asking too much, perhaps, of human frailty to find fault with them for a certain degree of restlessness and discomfort in his presence.
But that they should have set themselves at work as soon as the safety of the North was assured, to find or make an occasion for depriving its saviour of his command was a crime against the State, the magnitude of which is only to be measured by all that the nation has since been thereby called to bear of loss, of suffering, and of shame.
Yet the events which now took place are difficult of explanation upon any other theory than this.
Five days after the battle of Antietam the President issued
his proclamation of emancipation, declaring a general war against the social system of the seceded States, to begin on the 1st of January, 1863.
This proclamation of course was utterly inconsistent with all those principles in obedience to which alone General McClellan, in his letter from Harrison's Landing, had expressed his belief that the war could be honorably and successfully conducted. And as it is now known* that the publication of this proclamation had been delayed, by the advice of Mr. Secretary Seward, until a glow of triumph should have dawned upon the Union arms, it is a new and curious illustration of the President's notions of "confidence" and "cordial support" that he should have availed himself of General McClellan's victory of Antietam to fulminate a bull" on the politics of the war, diametrically hostile to all that officer's often and earnestly expressed convictions in respect to our military policy.
General McClellan, however deeply he may have felt the inopportuneness of this proclamation, dealt with it in the spirit of a soldier and a citizen, who recognized the just limits of civil and of military authority, respectively.
"The principles upon which, and the object for which, armies shall be employed in suppressing rebellion,” he said, in a General Order to his troops, October 7th, 1862, "must be determined and declared by the civil authorities; and the chief executive, who is charged with the administration of the national affairs, is the proper and only source through which the needs and orders of the Government can be made known to the armies of the nation. Discussions by officers and soldiers concerning public measures determined upon and declared by the Government, when once carried beyond temperate and respectful expressions of opinion, tend greatly to impair and destroy the discipline and efficiency of troops, by substituting
* See the facts in this case stated in the explanatory prospects of Mr. Carpenter's picture of the President and his Cabinet preparing this proclamation.
the spirit of political faction for that firm, steady and earnest support of the authority of the Government, which is the highest duty of the American soldier. The remedy for political errors, if any are committed, is to be found only in the action. of the people at the polls.
"In carrying out all measures of public policy,” added the general, in conclusion, "this army will, of course, be guided by the same rules of mercy and Christianity that have ever controlled their conduct towards the defenceless."
General McClellan's abstinence from interference in the civil policy of the administration was not reciprocated by a similar abstinence on the part of the administration from interference in his own military plans.
His efforts to strengthen his army for offensive operations were constantly thwarted. Troops promised to him to-day, were suddenly diverted to-morrow to distant and independent commands.* The transportation of necessary supplies and material to his army was impeded by carelessness, or worse than carelessness, in the bureaux of the war department, and the office of the general-in-chief at Washington. The ancient spectre of an invasion by the way of Manassas rose again to trouble the rest of the President and his councillors.
On the 1st of October the President visited General McClellan at his headquarters, went through the camps, and went over the battle-fields of South Mountain and Antietam.†
The condition of the army was fully explained to the President, who recognized, or seemed to recognize, the absolute impossibility of moving immediately upon a new campaign of invasion in the face of an organized and powerful enemy, and
* For example, Sigel's troops were first put at his disposal, and then without his knowledge sent into West Virginia.
It was upon this occasion that the President shocked the army and the nation by calling upon one of his suite to entertain him with certain comic songs while riding among the fresh graves of the soldiers who had fallen in the terrible battles of September.
who expressed his renewed and grateful confidence in its commander.
The army under General McClellan was indeed utterly worn down by the efforts which it had made. The main body was composed of the troops, which General Pope had exhausted in his fatal campaign at the end of August. Hastily reorganized by General McClellan in the first week in September, the army had been marched through the mountains of Maryland to fight the fierce battles of South Mountain and Antietam. It needed everything that an army can need, horses for the cavalry, shoes and equipments for the men,* supplies, in short, of all kinds, without which it would have been sheer madness to move into an enemy's country at the approach of winter.
The President, however, on the 6th of October, directly after his return to Washington, caused his general-in-chief to issue an order commanding General McClellan to "cross the Potomac, and give battle to the enemy or drive him south.”
The President, the secretary of war, and General Halleck must have known, when this order was issued, that it would not be obeyed, for they knew that it could not be obeyed.— Whether they expected, by issuing it, to drive General McClellan into a resignation, or were merely preparing a “record” to which they might afterwards appeal in proof of his "tardiness" and their own "energy" is, perhaps, a question. There can be no question, however, that the order itself was an outrage alike upon common sense and all military propriety. It
B Corps commanders upon receiving notice from the quartermasters that they might expect to receive their supplies at certain dates, sent their trains for them, which, after waiting, were compelled to return empty. Several instances occurred where these trains went back and forth from the camp to the depots as often as four or five different times without receiving their supplies; and I was informed by one corps commander, that his wagon train had travelled over one hundred and fifty miles to and from the depots, before he succeeded in obtaining his clothing.
The corps of General Franklin did not get its clothing until after it had crossed the Potomac, and was moving into Virginia.-Report, p. 411.
was followed up, a week later, by another of those astonishing military letters of advice and instruction which President Lincoln seems never to have ceased writing until the success of General Grant in taking Vicksburg, a year afterwards, on a plan which his excellency had not suggested, induced him to admit that a general in the field might sometimes understand what he was doing better than a politician in the White House.
Some of the propositions of this letter, dated October 13th, deserve immortality.
"As we must beat him somewhere or fail finally," said his excellency, speaking of General Lee, "we can do it, if at all, easier near to us than far away." The results of General Pope's experience at "beating the enemy near to" Washington, recent as they were, would seem to have quite passed away from the presidential memory when this brilliant maxim was evolved from the depths of the presidential mind!
Again said the presidential commander-in-chief, "if we cannot beat the enemy where he now is we never can." This dogma was the more discouraging that neither the President nor General McClellan himself exactly knew where the enemy at this moment was.
Fortunately, however, for the country, after expatiating in a highly wonderful manner over the map, and displaying an amazing facility at making geometrical war, the President wound up with the saving clause, "this letter is in no sense an order."
A weary interchange of telegrams now went on between the headquarters of General McClellan and the Aulic council at Washington, the latter urging an immediate movement, the former insisting, as it was his duty to insist, that the army should not be hurried into the field unprepared for the serious work before it.
The merits of this tedious controversy are well summed up in the following passage from General McClellan's report: