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The President, who had united with the Navy Department in arging their proposition, first upon General Scott and then upon General McClellan, manifested great disappointment when he learned that the plan had failed in consequence of the troops not being sent. And Captain Craven threw up his command on the Potomac and applied to be sent to sea, saying that, by remaining here and doing nothing, he was but losing his own reputation, as the blame for permitting the Potomac to be blockaded would be imputed to him and the flotilla under his command.
Upon the failure of this plan of the Navy Department, the effective vessels of the Potomac flotilla left upon the Port Royal expedition. The navigation of the river was almost immediately thereafter closed, and remained closed until the rebels volantarily evacuated their batteries in the March following, no steps having been taken, in the meantime, for reopening communication by that route.
On the 19th of January, 1862, the President of the United States, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, issued orders for a general movement of all the armies of the United States, one result of which was the series of victories at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, &c., which so electrified the country and revived the hopes of every loyal man in the land.
LINE OF OPERATIONS.
After this long period of inaction of the army of the Potomac, the President of the United States, on the 31st of January, 1862, issued the following order :
“ EXECUTIVE MANSION,
“Washington, January 31, 1862. “ President's Special War Order No. 1.
“Ondered, That all the disposable force of the army of the Potomac, after providing safely for the defence of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad southwestward of what is known as Manassas Junction; all details to be in the discretion of the general-in-chief, and the expedition to move before or on the 22d day of February next.
“ ABRAHAM LINCOLN.” To this order General McClellan wrote an elaborate reply of the same date, objecting to the plan therein indicated as involving "the error of dividing our army by a very difficult obstacle, (the Occoquan,) and by a distance too great to enable the two portions to support each other, should either be attacked by the masses of the enemy, while the other is held in check.” He then proceeded to argue in favor of a movement by way of the Rappahannock or Fortress Monroe, giving the preference to the Rappahannock route. He stated that 30 days would be required to provide the necessary means of transportation. He stated that he regarded success as certain, by all the chances of war," by the route he proposed, while it was “by no means certain that we can beat them (the enemy] at Manassas.” To this the President made the following reply:
Washington, February 3, 1862. “My Dear Sir: You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the army of the Potomac-yours to be down the Chesapeake, up the Rappahanpock to Urbana, and across land to the terminus of the railroad on York river; mine to move directly to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas. If you will give me satisfactory answers to the following questions I shall gladly yield my plan to yours :
“1. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?
“ 2. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine?
“4. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this, that it would break no great line of the enemy's communication, while mine would ?
“5. In case of disaster, would not a safe retreat be more difficult by your plan than by mine? “ Yours, truly,
“ A. LINCOLN. “Major General McCLELLAN.”
Your committee have no evidence, either oral or documentary, of the discussions that ensued or the arguments that were submitted to the consideration of the President that led him to relinquish his own line of operations and consent to the one proposed by General McClellan, except the result of a council of war, held in February, 1862. That council, the first, so far as your committee have been able to ascertain, ever called by General McClellan, and then by the direction of the President, was composed of twelve generals, as follows: McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, Keyes, Fitz-John Porter, Franklin, W. F. Smith, McCall, Blenker, Andrew Porter, Barnard, and Naglee, (from General Hooker's division.)
To them was submitted the question whether they would indorse the line of operations which General McClellan desired to adopt. The result of the deliberation was a vote of eight to four in favor of the movement by way of Annapolis, and thence down the Chesapeake bay, up the Rappahannock, landing at Urbana, and across the country to Richmond. The four generals who voted against the proposed movement were Generals McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and Barnard. General Keyes voted for it with the qualification that no change should be made until the enemy were driven from their batteries on the Potomac.
At this point it may be well to consider the principal arguments for and against the movement upon Richmond direct from Washington, and the movement by way of the lower Chesapeake, including that first proposed by way of the Rappahannock river, and the one finally adopted by way of Fortress Monroe and the peninsula.
In expressing opinions upon this and other subjects relating more immediately to military operations in the field, your committee do not undertake to form and express opinions of their own, but content themselves with setting forth those expressed in their testimony by military men whose education and experience entitle them to speak confidently upon those subjects pertaining to their profession.
The arguments in favor of the direct and against the lower route to Richmond were many and weighty. Some of them are most tersely expressed in the letter of the President to General McClellan, of February 3, 1862, before referred to. Besides those, the direct movement enabled the largest amount of troops to operate actively in the field, as the army in its movement immediately covered Washington, and thereby rendered the presence of a large force here unnecessary By the adoption of the lower route, a division of the army was rendered imperative, in order to provide for the safety of the capital against any attack from the enemy. Thus, to use the language of General McClellan himself, in reference to the movement proposed against the enemy while at Manassas, “committing the error of dividing our army by a very difficult obstacle, and by a distance too great to enable the two portions to support each other, should either be attacked by the masses of the enemy while the other is held in check."
The army in moving direct from Washington avoided all the delays and dis
order consequent upon the embarkation and disembarkation of so large a force with all its materiel. And by investing Richmond on the north and northwest, we cut them off from one of their great sources of supply, the Shenandoah *valley, and at the same time prevented their raids through that region of country, which so paralyzed all efforts to send the few troops left in Washington to the assistance of the army on the peninsula.
General McClellan states in his testimony that by adopting the route by way of Annapolis and the Rappahannock, he hoped, if proper secrecy was preserved, to be able to reach the vicinity of Richmond before the rebel army at Manassas could be concentrated there for its defence. Whatever probability there may have been for the realization of such a hope at the time the Rappahannock route was decided upon, it was entirely removed when the enemy evacuated Manassas, before any actual movement was made by our army. And General McClellan at once relinquished the Rappahannock route, and decided, with the concurrence of his corps commanders, to go by way of Yorktown and the peninsula:
One great objection to the peninsula route, as indicated by the testimony of all the witnesses who testify upon that point, including General McClellan himself, was the total want of information in reference to the nature of the country there, the kind and condition of the roads, the preparations for defence, &c. The difficulties and embarrassments our army labored under from the beginning of that campaign, from that want of information, are very evident from the testimony.
The decision of the council of twelve generals in February was to move by way of Annapolis and thence to the Rappahannock. The question of re-opening the navigation of the Potomac, by driving the enemy from their batteries upon the river, was discussed. It was, however, finally decided that the enemy should be left in possession of their batteries, and the movement should be made without disturbing them. This is proven by the testimony, and also by the second paragraph of the order of the President, dated March 8, 1862, as follows:
“Executive MANSION, March 8, 1862. “President's General War Order No. 3.
"Ordered, That no change of the base of operations of the army of the Potomac shall be made without leaving in and about Washington such a force as, in the opinion of the general-in-chief and the commanders of all the army corps, shall leave the said city entirely secure.
“That no more than two army corps (about fifty-thousand troops) of said army of the Potomac shall be moved en route for a new base of operations until the navigation of the Potomac from Washington to the Chesapeake bay shall be freed from enemy's batteries and other obstructions, or until the President shall hereafter give express permission.
“That any movement aforesaid en route for a new base of operations, which may be ordered by the general-in-chief, and which may be intended to move upon the Chesapeake bay, shall begin to move upon the bay as early as the 18th March instant, and the general-in-chief shall be responsible that it so move as early as that day.
“ Ordered, That the army and navy co-operate in an immediate effort to capture the enemy's batteries upon the Potomac between Washington and the Chesapeake bay.
“ABRAHAM LINCOLN. "L. THOMAS, Adjutant General."
Before the movement by way of Annapolis could be executed, the enemy abandoned their batteries upon the Potomac, and evacuated their position at Centreville and Manassas, retiring to the line of the Rappahannock.
When General McClellan, then in the city of Washington, heard that the enemy had evacuated Manassas, he proceeded across the river and ordered a general movement of the whole army in the direction of the position lately occupied by the enemy. The enemy moved on the morning of the 10th of March, the greater part of it proceeding no further than Fairfax Court-House. A small force of the army proceeded to Manassas and beyond to the line of the Rappahannock, ascertaining that the enemy had retired beyond that river and destroyed the railroad bridge across it.
On the 11th of March General McClellan ordered, by telegraph, the transports from Annapolis to Washington, (Alexandria ?) to embark the army from there, and informed the department that he proposed to occupy Manassas with a portion of General Banks's command, and throw all the force he could concentrate upon the line previously determined upon. Subsequent events in the valley of the Shenandoah, terminating, for a time, in the battle of Winchester, of March 23d, prevented the force under General Banks from leaving
that valley. On the 13th of March General McClellan convened at Fairfax Court-House a council of war, consisting of four of the five commanders of army corps, (General Banks being absent,) and informed them that he proposed to abandon his plan of movement by way of the Rappahannock, and submitted to them instead a plan of movement by way of the York and James rivers. The result of the deliberations of that council was as follows:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Fairfax Court-House, March 13, 1862. “A council of the generals commanding army corps at the headquarters of the army of the
Potomac were of the opinion : “ First. That the enemy having retreated from Manassas to Gordonsville, behind the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, it is the opinion of the generals commanding army corps that the operations to be carried on will be best undertaken from Old Point Comfort, between the York and James rivers, upon Richmond; provided, first, that the enemy's vessel, the Merrimac, can be neutralized; second, that the means of transportation sufficient for an immediate transfer of the force to its new base can be ready at Washington and Alexandria to move down the Potomac; third, that a naval auxiliary force can be had to silence or aid in silencing the enemy's batteries in York river; fourth, that the force to be left to cover Washington shall be such as to give an entire feeling of security for its safety from menace. Unanimous.
" Second. If the foregoing cannot be, the army should then be moved against the enemy behind the Rappahannock at the earliest possible moment, and the means for reconstructing bridges, repairing railroads, and stocking them with material sufficient for supplying the army, should at once be collected for both the Orange and Alexandria and the Acquia and Richmond railroads. Unanimous.
“Note.—That with the forts on the right bank of the Potomac fully garrisoned, and those on the left bank occupied, a covering force in front of the Virginia line of 25,000 men would suffice, (Keyes, Heintzelman and McDowell.) A total of 40,000 men for the defence of the city would suffice, (Sumner.)”
The same day General McClellan informed the War Department that “the council of commanders of army corps have unanimously agreed upon a plan of operations, and General McDowell will at once proceed with it to Washington and lay it before you."
To this the Secretary of War replied: “Whatever plan has been agreed upon proceed at once to execute, without losing an hour for my approval.”
The plan of operations was submitted to the President on the same day, and he approved the same ; but gave the following directions as to its execution :
“ First. Leave such force at Manassas Junction as shall make it entirely
certain that the enemy shall not repossess himself of that position and line of communication.
“ Second. Leave Washington secure.
“ Third. Move the remainder of the force down the Potomac, choosing a new base at Fortress Monroe, or anywhere between here and there; or, at all events, move such remainder of the army at once, in pursuit of the enemy, by some route."
The army was directed to return to Alexandria to be embarked for the peninsula; previous to their embarkation all the corps to be concentrated upon the division nearest Alexandria. The transportation not proving sufficient for immediate embarkation, the troops were, for several days, exposed to the rains which then set in, being deprived of their former camping accommodations, although, in many instances, not far distant from them, having only shelter tents to protect them from the inclemency of the weather.
To General McDowell was at first assigned the advance of the expedition. But when it was found that there was not transportation enough to embark at once his entire corps, he consented, in order to utilize what was there, to allow his troops to remain until such time as they could be moved together, with the understanding that the troops preceding him should not operate upon his proposed field of labor. The result
, however, was, that the corps of General McDowell was put off till the last, which, in pursuance of subsequent orders, led to his corps being retained here for the defence of Washington.
By reference to the President's general war order, No. 3, of March 3, 1862, it will be seen that no change of the base of operations of the army of the Potomac was to be made without leaving in and about Washington such a force as in the opinion not only of General McClellan, but of “the commanders of all the army corps,” was sufficient to render the capital entirely secure. And by reference to the report of the council of war held at Fairfax Court-House, on the 13th of March, 1862, consisting of Generals McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes, it will be seen that three members of that council deemed necessary for the safety of Washington “ that the forts on the right bank of the Potomac should be fully garrisoned; those on the left bank occupied, and a covering force of 25,000 men.” The other general (Sumner) deemed 40,000 men in all sufficient.
Notwithstanding this order of the President, and the decision of the council, when General McClellan himself left Alexandria for the peniusula, he sent back orders, without conference with the commanders of corps, for all the corps of the army of the Potomac, but that of General Banks, to embark at once for the peninsula. Just previous to leaving, General McClellan addressed the following communication to the adjutant general of the army:
“ HEADQUARTERS ARMY OP The PotOMAC,
“ Steamer Commodore, April 1, 1862. “GENERAL: I have to request that you will lay the following recommendation before the honorable Secretary of War:
" The approximate numbers and positions left near and in rear of the army of the Potomac are about as follows:
“General Dix has, after guarding the railroads under his charge, sufficient troops to give him 5,000 for the defence of Baltimore, and 1,988 available for the Eastern Shore, Annapolis, &c. Fort Delaware is very well garrisoned by about 400 men.
“ The garrisons of the forts around Washington amount to 10,000 men; other disposable troops, with General Wadsworth, being about 11,400.
“ The troops employed in guarding the railways in Maryland amount to some 3,359 men. Those it is designed to relieve, being old regiments, by dismounted cavalry, and to send them forward to Manassas.