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start till the afternoon of the 19th. In the meantime, the pontons that were to go by water had been despatched.
At the outset of the expedition, moreover, General Woodbury had requested General Halleck to delay the army for a few days. "General Halleck's order to me, of the 13th," says General Woodbury, "made it apparent that the army was preparing to march to Fredericksburg. As to the time when the movement would be made, I never received any information. Fearing, however, that the movement would be precipitate, I went to General Halleck's office and urged him to delay the movement some five days, in order that the necessary preparations might be made to insure its success. To this he replied, that he would do nothing to delay for an instant the advance of the army upon Richmond. I rejoined that my suggestion was not intended to cause delay, but rather to prevent it. Had the emergency been made known to me in any manner," he adds, "I could have disregarded the forms of service -seized teams, teamsters and wagonmasters for instant service wherever I could find them. Then, with good roads and good weather, they might possibly have been in time. But I had no warrant for such a course, which, after all, could only have been carried out by the authority of the General-in-Chief."* That General Halleck understood the exigency and the absolute need of celerity in sending off and transporting the pontons, is simply to claim for him the possession of ordinary intelligence and powers of observation. But with this knowledge, he neglected to inform the officer in charge of the operations that any emergency existed, and when he ascertained that it was almost impossible, without some special order, to get the ponton train off in time, he neglected to use the means which he held in his own hands for its despatch. When appealed to by General Woodbury to delay the movement of the army-which he could do by a single word-until the ponton train was ready, he utterly refused. It certainly was unfortunate that wagons
*Report of Committee on the Conduct of the War, I., G65.
were not sent with the train which went by water. a lamentable oversight on the part of General Woodbury. But the omission was doubtless caused by the ignorance of General Woodbury that any special need for haste existed, and by his supposition that the wagons would go by land, and would reach headquarters in ample season for the operations that were contemplated. General Halleck could have enlightened his subordinate, but did not choose so to do. From a careful review of all the facts, no other conclusion can be reached th: n that the failure of the pontons, and consequently the failure of General Burnside's plan of advance, must be laid to the negligence of the General in Chief in discharging the trust reposed in him.
General Hooker is disposed to divide the responsibility between the General in Chief and the Quartermaster General. He said, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War,* that he "heard General Meigs or General Halleck assure General Burnside that they (the pontons) would be here (at Falmouth) in three days." In answer to the question, "As the matter was left at the time of the conversation, did you understand that the responsibility of having the pontons and supplies here rested upon General Burnside, or upon General Halleck and General Meigs?" General Hooker replied, "I think it necessarily rested upon General Halleck and General Meigs, because it was beyond the control of General Burnside, who was not where he could control it." General Sumner was positive, that if he had had the pontons within three days of his arrival at Falmouth, he could have occupied the heights in rear of Fredericksburg without material opposition. General Franklin wished" to impress as firmly upon the committee as it" was impressed upon his own "mind, the fact that the whole disaster had resulted from the delay in the arrival of the ponton bridges. Whoever is responsible for that delay is responsible for all the disasters which have followed."†
* Part I., 671. Report of Committee, I., 662.
Perhaps it would have been better, if General Burnside had sent an aide or some trustworthy staff officer to Washington, especially upon the errand of despatching the pontons. It certainly would have been better, if he had held his army at Warrenton until he had received positive assurances, that the pontons had started and were well on the way under sufficient guard. But he trusted in General Halleck's promises and in General Woodbury's despatches. Between the two the movement failed, and General Burnside paid dearly for his misplaced confidence.
On the 22d of November, while awaiting the arrival of the pontons, General Burnside addressed the following letter to General Cullum:
"By reference to my plan of operations, submittted by order of the General in Chief, it will be found that one of the necessary parts of that plan was to have started from Washington at once ponton trains sufficient to span the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg twice, and I was assured that at least one train would leave as soon as the General-in-Chief and General Meigs returned, and I proposed that, if an escort was required and I was informed of the departure of the train by telegraph, I would furnish it from my cavalry. Receiving no information of its departure, I ordered Lieutenant Comstock to telegraph in reference to it.
"It is very clear that my object was to make the move to Fredericksburg very rapidly, and to throw a heavy force across the river before the enemy could concentrate a force to oppose the crossing, and I supposed the ponton train would arrive at this place nearly simultaneously with the head of the column. Had that been the case, the whole of General Sumner's column, of thirty-three thousand strong, would have crossed into Fredericksburg at once over a ponton bridge in front of a city filled with families of rebel officers and sympathizers with the rebel cause, and garrisoned by a small squadron of cavalry and a battery of artillery, which General Sumner silenced within an hour after his arrival. Had the ponton bridge arrived, even
on the 19th or 20th, the army would have crossed with trifling opposition, but now the opposite side of the river is occupied by a large rebel force under General Longstreet, with batteries ready to be placed in position to operate against the working parties building the bridge and the troops in crossing.
"The ponton train has not yet arrived, and the river is too high for the troops to cross at any of the fords.
"You can readily see that much delay may occur in the general movement, and I deem it my duty to lay these facts before and to say that I cannot make the promise of probable success with the faith that I did, when I supposed that all the parts of the plan would be carried out.
"Another very material part of the proposition, which I understood to be approved as a whole, was that all the surplus wagons that were in Washington were to be loaded with bread and small commissary stores, and sent to this place at once, which would probably have supplied our army with from five to ten days' provisions. These trains could have moved with perfect safety, as they would have been protected by the movements of this army.
"I do not recall these facts in any captious spirit, but simply to impress upon the General in Chief, that he cannot expect me to do as much as if all the parts of the plan had been carried out. In fact, a force can be arrayed against us at this place that would very materially retard us.
"The work of the Quartermaster and Commissary Departments at Aquia Creek and Belle Plain has been most completely accomplished, and I am not prepared to say that every effort has not been made to carry out the other parts of the plan, but I must in honesty and candor say, that I cannot feel that the move indicated in my plan of operations will be successful, after two very important parts of the plan have not been carried out,-no matter for what reason.
The President said that the movement, in order to be sucful, must be made quickly, and I thought the same." General Halleck replied on the 23d, by telegraph:
"WASHINGTON, 12.20 P. M., Nov. 23d, 1862.
"MAJOR GENERAL BURNSIDE:
"You are aware that I telegraphed from your quarters in Warrenton to General Woodbury to send the ponton trains to Aquia Creek. Immediately on my return I saw him myself to urge them forward. He left for Aquia Creek with his brigade to report to you. He is there, under your command. If there has been any unnecessary delay, call him to an account. There has been no delay at these Headquarters in ordering him as you requested.
"H. W. HALLECK, General-in-Chief."
In the above correspondence, it is taken for granted by both that the main body of the army is at Falmouth.* General Halleck expresses no surprise that such is the fact. He has no word of censure for a movement which he afterwards characterized as made without authority. So far as appears in subsequent correspondence, General Halleck did not discover that General Burnside had moved the main body of his army in a different direction from what was intended and agreed upon at Warrenton, until after six weeks had passed, a great battle had been lost, and the General in Chief was suffering therefor in the public estimation.
*In regard to this subject the question would naturally arise: suppose, that General Burnside had taken the main body of his army across the upper Rappahannock and brought it down to Fredericksburg, how would it have been supplied? One hundred thousand men with animals would have to be fed, yet General Halleck would have put them in a position, between which and their depot of supplies a deep river would flow with no means of crossing.