Horace Greeley.

The American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 online

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Gen. McOlellan's original plan con-
templated an advance on lUchmond
by way of the lower Rappahannock,
landing at TJrbana, and making a
secondary base of West Point, at the
head of York river ; and this would
seem, whether regarded abstractly or
in the light of subsequent experience,
to be far preferable to the route on
which he ultimately decided, having
its base at Fortress Monroe; but
either of these, and indeed any ap-
proach to Bichmpnd otherwise than
from the north, was exposed to the
serionB if not fatal objection that it
involved a division and dispersion of
our forces, or left the National me-
tropolis, with its enormous d6p6ts of
arms, munitions, and provisions, to
say nothing of its edifices and ar-
chivee, at the mercy of the Bebels,
who could hardly fail to rush upon,
sack, and bum it, if our grand army
were transferred bodily to the base
of the Yirginian Peninsula. The
President, therefore, before giving
his aseent to Gen. McCleUan's pro-
ject, addressed to him the following

^Xxsounvs Hansion, Washington, )
"February 8, 1862. f

** IIt Dbar Sib : Yon and I have distinct
tod dbferent plans for a movement of the
Army of the Potomac ; jonrs to be done by
th« Chesapeake, np the Rappahannock to
Urbana, and across land to the terminus of
the railroad on the York river; mine to
move direcUy to a point on the railroad
•onthwest of Manassas.

** If yon will give satisfactory answers to
the following qnestions, I shall gladly yield
my plan to yoors :

**10L Does not your plan involve a

greatly larger expenditure of time and
money than mine ?

** 2d. Wherein is a victory more certain
by your plan than mine?

" 8d. Wherein is a victory more valtuibU
by your plan than mine?

'* 4th. In fact, wonld it not be lern vain*
able in this : that it would break no great
line of the enemy^s communications, while
mine would ?

^' 5th. In case of disaster, would not a
retreat be more difficult by your plan than

•* Yours, truly,

*^ Abraham Linooln.*'

These inquiries seem not to have
been directly answered; bat, in a
long letter of even date, to the Secre-
tary of War, Qen. McOlellan ni^es
the strength of the Bebel position at
and around Manassas Junction ; the
reported fact that the fords of the
Occoquan were watched by the
Bebels and defended by concealed
batteries on the heights in their rear,
which were being strengthened by
additional intrend^ents ; that, dur-
ing our advance from the Accotink
to the Occoquan, our right flank be-
comes exposed to an attack from
Fairfax Station, Sangster's, and
Union Mills ; that it would not do
to divide our army by leaving a por-
tion in front of Centerville while the
rest crosses the Occoquan ; that the
roads in this quarter were liable, for
some time yet, to be obstructed by
rains and snow, so that '^it seems
certain that many weeks may elapse
before it is possible to commence the
march ;" and that —

*« As^ming the success of this operation,
and the defeat of the enemy as certain, the
question at once arises as to the importance
of the results gained. I think these results
would be confined to the possession of the
field of battle, the evacuation of the line of
the upper Potomac by the enemy, and the
moral eftect of the victory ; important re-
sults, it is true : but not decisive of the war,
nor securing the destruction of the enemy's

''March 13.

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main armj; for he ooold fall back upon
other positions, and fight ns agun and
again, ahoald the condkion of his troops
permit If be is in no condition to fight ns
again out of the range of the intrenchments
at Richmond, we would find it a very diffi-
cult and tedious matter to follow him up
there; for he would destroy bis railroad
bridges and otherwise impede our progress,
through a region where the roads are as
bad as they well can be ; and we would
probably find ourselves forced at last to
change the whole theater of war, or to seek
a shorter land route to Richmond, with a
smaller available force, and at an expendi-
ture of much more time than were we to
adopt the short line at once. We would
also have forced the enemy to concentrate
his forces and perfect his defensive mea-
sures, at tlie very points where it is desir-
able to strike him when least prepared."

On the other hand, Gen. McClel-
lan urged in favor of an advance by
the route he preferred, that —

**It affords the shortest possible land-
route to Richmond, and strikes directly at
the heart of the enemy's power in the East

^* The roads in that region are passable at
all seasons of the year.

"The country now alluded to is much
more favorable for offensive operations than
that in front of Washington (which is eery
unfavorable), much more level, more cleared
land, the woods less dense, the soil more
sandy, and the Spring some two or three
weeks earlier. A movement in force on
that line obliges the enemy to abandon his
intrenched position at Manassas, in order
to hasten to cover Richmond and Norfolk.
He must do this ; for, should he permit us
to occupy Richmond, his destruction can be
averted only by entirdy defeating us in a
battle, in which he must be the assailant.
This movement, if successful, gives us the
capital, the communications, the supplies of
the Rebels: Norfolk would fall; all the
waters of the Chesapeake would be ours ;
all Virginia would be in our power, and the
enemy forced to abandon Tennessee and
North Carolina. The alternative presented
to the enemy would be, to beat til in a
position selected by ourselves, disperse, or
pass beneath the Caudine Forks.

"Should we be beaten in a battle, we
have a perfectly secure retreat down the
Peninsula upon Fortress Monroe, with our
flanks perfectly covered by the fleet

*' During the whole movement, our left
flank is covered by the water. Our right
is secure, for the reason that the enemy is
too distant to reach us in time ; he can only

oppose Qs in front; we bring onr fieefc fioAi

full play.**

He firther nTged, in favor of a

landing at Urbana, that —

" This point is easily reached by veiaeb
of heavy draught ; it is neither occupied nor
observed by the enemy; it is but one march
from West Point, the key of that re{^
and thence but two marches to RichmoDd.
A rapid movement from Urbana would pro*
bably cut off Magrnder in the Peninsola,
and enable us to occupy Richmond before
it could be strongly r6enforced. Should
we fail in that, we could^ with the c5operip
tion of the navy, cross the James and show
ourselves in rear of Richmond, thus forcing
the enemy to come out and attack us ; for
his position would be untenable with us on
the southern bank of the river. Should
circumstances render it not advisable to
land at Urbana, we can use Mob Jack Bay;
or, the worst coming to the worst, we osn
take Fortress Monroe as a base, and operate
with complete security — although with lest
celerity and brilliancy of results - up the

The President deferred to these
urgtot representations, though they
involved the necessitj of a long delay
and a heavy expense in procuring
transportation by water for so great
an army. The duty of obtaining the
requisite vessels was devolved an
John Tucker, Assistant-Secretary of
War ; who, on the 6th of April, re-
ported that he had chartered there-
for 113 steamers, 188 schooners, a&d
88 barges, and that these had — ^with-
in 37 days from the time he first re-
ceived the order, and most of it
within 30 days — ^transported from
Perryville, Alexandria, and Wash-
ington, to Fortress Monroe, 121,600
men, 14,592 anhnals, 1,150 wagons,
44: batteries, and 74 ambulances, be-
side pontoon-bridges, telegraph ma-
terials, and the enormous quantity of
equipage, &c., required for such an
army ; with a total loss of 9 barges
and 8 nlules : the former having been
driven ashore in a gale when withm
a few miles of Fortress Monroe. He

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adds that the change which had
meantime been made from Urbana
to Fortress Monroe, as the point of
debarkation, had caused delay in the

The force of Gen. McClellan's ob-
lections to the advance desired and
at first commanded by President
Lincoln, depends entirely on the cor-
rectness of his estimate of the Rebel
numbers in his front. He estimated
throughout that these ranged from
80,000 to 120,000 men, with over
300 cannon." On the other hand,
those who were eager for a direct and
decisive blow, insisted, from first to
last, that the Bebel army at no time
exceeded 60,000 in number, and was
oftener below 60,000."

G^n. Beauregard had relinquished"
the command of the Army of Vir-
ginia, to take direction in the "West,
and been succeeded by Gen. Joseph
E. Johnston, who soon commenced a
quiet and carefrd evacuation of his
"Winter camps, which he completed
on the 8th of March ; retiring south-
ward behind the Bapidan, leaving
nothing of the least value to our ser-
vice. So admirably was this usually
perilous movement conducted, or so

worthless was McGellan's observa-
tion and secret service, that no hint
of it appears to have reached our
General until the day after its com-
pletion." He then ordered an ad-
vance of our grand army upon Cen-
terville and Manassas, as transports
had not yet been provided for their
passage down the Potomac and Ches-
apeake, and with a view of giving
them, he says, ^' an opportunity to
gain some experience on the march
and bivouac, preparatory to the cam-
paign, and to get rid of the superflu-
ous baggage and other impedi-
menta,' which accumulate so easily
around an army encamped for along
time in one locality.'' His cavahy
advance. Col. Averill, reached the
enemy's deserted lines at Centerville
at noon next day. Of course, no
enemy was found there, nor nearer
than "Warrenton Junction; where
Gen. Stoneman, with our cavalry,
discovered them in force on the 14tli,
and returned without attacking
them. The main body of our army
had conmienced its return to the Po-
tomac on the 11th ; on which day the
President issued* War Order No. 3,'
relieving Gen. McClellan from the

"He states in his official Report that the
diief of his secret service oorps, Mr. E. J. Al-
len, reported, on the 8th of March, that the
forces of the Rebel Army of the Potomac at
that date were as follows :
At Mannnm, Cent^rrlUe, Ball Ban, Upper

OccoquAD, and Tidnltf 80,000 men.

At Brook8*t SutioD, Damfriea, Low«r Oooo-

qoan, and TlclnltT ia,000 **

AtLeeabaivandTlelnltj...... 4,800 •*

Intha Shenandoah VaUef.-.S 18,000 •♦

ToUlnomber U^m *

■The writer yisited, early in January, Gen.
Wadsworth, in bis camp near Ball's Cross-
Roads; when, on this point, Gen. W. said : " I
see and examine all deserters and contrabands
who reach us from the Rebel camps in ourfh>nt ;
and their testimony conyinoes me that they haye
but fifty or sixty regiments in all— certainly not
oyer 60,000 men." This, of course, did not in-

clude outlying detachments, whether at and
toward Winchester or below the Ooooqiian.

Most Rebel writers who touch this pomt, and
British officers who served with or yisited the
Rebel army during the ensuing campaign, were
unanimous in making their total eflfoctiye foroe
during that 'Winter less than 60,000.

*» Jan. 80.

>* Pollard says:

" For the spaceof three weeks before the army
left its intrenchments at Manassas, preparations
were being made for falling back to the line of
the RappiOiannock, by the quiet and gradual re-
moval of the vast accumulations of army stores ;
and, with such consummate address was this
managed, that our own troops had no idea of
what was hitended until the inarch was taken
up. The first inthnation the enemy had of the
evacuation of Manassas was the smoke of the
soldiers' huts that had been fired by our army.

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adds that the change which had I worthlcBB was McQellaii'g obeenra-

meantime been made from Urbana I tion and secret service, that no hint

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but fiflj or sixty regiments in all-— certainly not | evacoation of Manassas was the smoke of the
orer 50,000 men." This, of course, did not in- I soldiers' hnts that had been fired by our armjr.'*

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oonnmand of all military departments
but that of the Potomac ; extending
Oen. Halleek's department in the
West so as to include all the Miasis-
sippi Valley northward of the Gulf
States and west of a north and south
line drawn through Enox ville, Tenn. ;
and creating a new ' Mountain De-
partment,' consisting of the country
between McClellan's and Halleck's,
to be commanded by Gen. Fremont.

Undoubtedly, this order indicated
a diKninution, if not absolute fsdlure,
of the President's confidence in his
BOiior General ; and, while it is very
obvious that the commander of a
great army operating from the Pen-
insula against Eichmond could not
properly and safely direct the move-
ments of other armies, scattered all
over the country, and with which his
telegraphic communipations would
probably be often interrrupted, it is
certain that all our movements
should have been directed by a com-
mon head^ responsible for the proper
distribution and concentration of our
forces. A Secretary of War, how-
ever able and fit, is perplexed by
duties and anxieties too multifarious
and distracting to permit of his serv-
ing to advantage as Generalissimo.

Two days later, at a council of
corps commanders at Fairfax Court
House, it was decided — ^for reasons
not given and not apparent — ^to de-
bark our army at Old Point Comfort,
between the York and James rivers,
instead of Urbana or Mob Jack Bay
—a most unfortunate decision, though
materially qualified by the following

^ Ist. That the enemy^s vessel Merrimao
otn be neatndized.

*^2d. That the means of transportation,
safflcient for an immediate transfer of the
Corce to its new base, can be ready at Wash-
VOL. n.— 8

ington and Alexandria to move down the
Potomac: and

" 8d. That a naval auxiliary force can be
had to silence, or aid in silencing, tiie
enemy's batteries on York river. ^

" 4th. That the forces to be left to cover
Washington shall be such as to give an en-
tire feefing of security for its safety from
menace. (Unanimous.)

" If the foregoing can not bo, the army
should then be moved agidnst the en-
emy, behind the Rappahannock, at the
earliest possible moment; and the means
for reconstructing bridges, repairing rail-
roads and stocking them with material suf-
ficient for supplying the army, should at
once be collected for both the Orange and
Alexandria and Acquia and Richmond Rail-
roads. (Unanimous.)

" N. B. That with the forts on the right
bank of the Potomac ftilly 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 defense of the city would suffice. (Sum-

This decision, being communicated
to the War Department, was prompt-*
ly responded to aa follows :

" Wab Dbpabtmekt, March 18, 1862,
"ToM^.-Gen. Geo.B. MoOlellan:

**The President, having considered the
plan of operations agreed upon by yourself
and the commanders of army corps, makes
no objection to the same, but gives the fol-
lowing directions as to its execution :

^^Ist 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.

'^ 2d. Leave Washington entirely secure.

^^dd. 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 motm route.

** Edwin M. Stantow,

"Secretary of War."

Gen. McClellan hereupon ordered
Gen. Banks, with his corps, to move
both his divisions down from the
Shenandoah Yalley to Manassas;
there to intrench and rebuild the rail-
roads and bridges, " occupy by grand
guards Warrenton Junction, or War-
renton itself, and also some little

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more advanced point on the Orange
and Alexandria Railway," leaving
bnt two r^ments of cavalry to " oo-
cupy Winchester and thoroughly
Bcour the country south of the rail-
way and up the Shenandoah Valley."
Gen. Banks had already throvm
across the Potomac, at Harper's
Ferry," the 28th Pennsylvania, Ool.
Geary, following himself,** taking
possession of Bolivar and Loudon
Heights, Leesburg, Charlestown,"
and Martinsburg,** and pushing back
the Rebels to Winchester, which
Stonewall Jackson evacuated " with-
out a struggle. Gen. Shield^ com-
manding Lander's division," pursued
Jackson to Newmarket," where he
found him strongly posted and ready
for action. He thereupon fell back
rapidly to Winchester, pursued by
Jackson's cavalry, under Turner
Ashby. Gen. Banks, having dis-
patched one division toward Center-
ville," Jackson's spies assured him
that Shields had but four regiments
left, and might easily be captured or
routed ; so Ashby drove in our pick-
e^ and pressed hard upon Shields,
who kept the larger part of his force
concealed until Jackson was induced
to advance in force and attack. Li
the slight skirmish which occurred,"
Gen. Shields was struck by a frag-
ment of shell which broke his arm,
and so injured his shoulder and side
'that he fought next day's battle in
bed. Jackson had 10 regiments of
infantry, all Virginians, but reports
their aggregate strength at only 3,087
men, with 27 guns and 290 cavalry."

Gea. ShieUs had 6,000 in&ntry, 760
cavalry, and 24 guns, well posted
some three miles south of Winchester,
and half a mile north of the little
village of Kbenstown, covering the
three principal roads which enter
Winchester from the south-east,
south, and south-west.

Gen. Banks had remained with
Shields imtil about 10 a. m. ;" when,
a careful reconnoissance having disr
covered no enemy in fr6nt but
Ashby's cavalry, he concluded that
Jackson was too weak or too cautious
to risk an attack, and departed for
Washington via Harper's Ferry. Be-
fore noon, however. Shields was ad-
vised by Col. Kimball, on his left,
that a Rebel battery had opened on
his position, and appeared to be sup-
ported by a considerable force of in-
fantry. Thereupon, Sullivan's bri-
gade was pushed forward to support
Kimball, and our artillery opened
simultaneously with one or two more
Rebel batteries ; but at such distance
as to do little harm. Soon, a still
larger force of aU arms was develop-
ed by Jackson on his right, and an
effort made to turn our left, which
was gallantly resisted and foiled by
Sullivan's brigade, supporting Jenks's
artillery. Jackson then reenforced
heavily his left, sending two addition-
al batteries and his reserve to sup-
port the movement; when Shields
ordered up Tyler's brigade of 4 regi-
ments to the support of CoL Kim-
ball, conmianding that wing, where-
by liie Rebels were outnumbered and
hurled back upon their main body,

» Feb. 24 " Feb. 26. " Feb. 28.

"March 3. ••March 11.

*Gen. F. W. Lander, one of ihB bravest and
best of our earlj oommanders, had died March
2d, of congestion of the brain, caused bj hard-
Bh\j^ exposure, and anxiety.

"March 19. "March 22.

"About sunset, March 22.

^ Pollard sajs the Confederate forces amoant-
ed to 6,000 men, with Oapt McLaughlin's bat-
tery and CoL Ashby's cavalry.'

"Sunday, March 23.

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stronglj posted behind a high and
fiolid stone wall, crossing a hill,
where a desperate stand was made
by Jackson's famons ^Stonewall Bri-
gade,' and others, whose fire was for
a few minntes rapid and deadly ; but
iheir position was soon fianked and
carried by onr eager, determined ad-
vance, and they retreated in disor-
der, leaving 2 guns, 4 caissons, and
many small arms. Night now fell,
and saved them, doubtless, from a
heavier loss. Onr men secured their
prisoners, cared for their wonnded —
those of the Bebels having mostly
been carried off by them prior to
their retreat — and sank down to rest
on the battle-field. The Bebels re-
treated a few miles, rapidly but in
good order, ere they, too, rested for
the night.

Jackson attributes his defeat in
part to Gen. R. B. Oamett's error of
judgment in repeatedly ordering his
men to retreat, when he should have
held on and fought. It seems clear,
however, that the capital mistake
was hk own in fighting at all, when
his total force, acc(mling to his own
estimate, was less than 5,000 men,
and he estimates our infantry on the
field at over 11,000. He makes his
loss 80 killed, 342 wounded, and 269
missing, maii^y prisoners; total, 691;
while Shields claims 300 prisoners,
and estimates the Bebel loss in killed
and wounded at 1,000 to 1,600."
Our own loss in this engagement was
108 killed, including Ool. Murray,
of the 84th Pennsylvania; 441
wounded, and 24 missing.

Oen. Shields, well aware that

heavy reenforcements for Jackson
were at hand, immediately sent an
express after Williams's division — by
this time well on its way to Harper^s
Feny— desiring its immediate return ;
but Gen. Banks, hearing of the bat-
tle by tel^raph fix>m Winchester,
had. already stopped at Harper^s Fer-
ry and anticipated this order ; him*
self rejoining Shields early next day,
and resuming command. He pur-
sued Jackson vigorously up the Val-
ley to Woodstock, but was unable to
bring him to bay.

W% have seen that Qen. McOlel-
lan's council of corps commanders
decided, on the 13th of March, to
abandon his original plan of debark-
ing at TJrbana, on the Kappahan-
nock, and advancing thence on Rich-
mond by West Point, at the head of
York river, making this a secondary
base. This most unfortunate de-
cision is rendered unaccountable by
a destructive if not disastrous naval
collision which had just occurred in
Hampton Beads, and of which the
results were well known to the coun-

Of our naval oflBcers' most calami-
tous, cowardly, disgraceful desertion
of and fiight from the Norfolk Navy
Yard and Arsenal at the beginning
of the struggle, the revolting particu-
lars have already been given."
Among the vessels there abandoned
to the Bebels, after being fired, was
the first-class 40-gun steam-frigate
Merrimac, which, by Capt. McOau-
ley's orders, had been scuttled and
partly sunk, so that only her rig-

"ShieldB'B ofBda] report aajs:

*Th0 eoaafn loss Is more dlffloatt to aaoer-
tiintlua onr own. Two hundred and seventy
were found dead on the battle-field ; 40 were
bated bgr tlis tohahKwm of the a^JMont vil-

iBge ; and, by a calculation made by the num-
ber of grayea foond on both sides of the Valley
road between here and Strasbnrg^ their loss in
killed must have been about 500, and in wounded
liOOO.'' " See Vol L, p. «3-t.

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ging and upper works were burned ;
her hull being saved by a speedy
submersion. Having thus fallen
an easy prey to the Eebels, she
was adopted by them as the basis of
an iron-clad, whereof Lieut. John M.
Brooke furnished the original plan,
which- Chief Engineer Williamson
and Naval Constructor Porter, to-
gether with Lt. Brooke, ultimatdy
&shioned into the terrible engine of
destruction known to us as the Mer-
rimac, but designated by her rebuild-
ers the Virginia. Messrs. Brooke,
Williamson, and Porter, were all
graduates from our navy, as was
Commodore Franklin Buchanan, who
became her commander. In prepar-
ing her for her new service, the hull
of the Merrimac was cut down near-
ly to the water's edge, after she had

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