Jacob D. (Jacob Dolson) Cox.

Military reminiscences of the civil war online

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the past few months seemed like another existence in-
definitely far away. I lost no time in making a rapid
ride about my position, studying its approaches in the
gathering twilight and trying to fix in mind the leading
features of the topography with their relation to the pos-
sible retreat of our army and advance of the enemy.
And all the while the rapid though mufHed thumping of
the distant cannon was in our ears, coming from the
field in front of Groveton, where Lee, having now united
his whole army against Pope, was sending part of Long-
street's divisions against McDowell's corps along the
Warrenton turnpike.

On Saturday the 30th ambulances began coming
through our lines with wounded men, and some on foot
with an arm in a sling or bandages upon the head were
wearily finding their way into the city. All such were
systematically questioned, their information was collated
and corrected, and reports were made to General Halleck
and General McClellan.^ The general impression of all
undoubtedly was that the engagement of Friday had been
victorious for our army, and that the enemy was probably
retreating at dark. During the day the cannonade con-
tinued with occasional lulls. It seemed more distant
and fainter, requiring attentive listening to hear it.
This was no doubt due to some change in the condition
of the atmosphere ; but we naturally interpreted it accord-
ing to our wishes, and believed that the success of Friday
was followed by the pursuit of the enemy. About four
o'clock in the afternoon the distant firing became much
more rapid; at times the separate shots could not be
counted. I telegraphed to McClellan the fact which in-

1 O. R., vol. xii. pt. ii. p. 405 ; pt. iii. pp. 748, 789 ; vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 170;
vol. Ii. pt. i. p. 777.


dicated a crisis in the battle.^ It was the fierce artillery
duel which preceded the decisive advance of Longstreet
against Pope's left wing. This was the decisive turning-
point in the engagement, and Pope was forced to retreat
upon Centreville.

Early in the evening all doubt was removed about the
result of the battle. Ill news travels fast, and the retreat
toward us shortened the distance to be travelled. But as
Sumner's and Franklin's corps had gone forward and
would report to Pope at Centreville, we were assured
that Pope was " out of his scrape " (to use the words of
McClellan's too famous dispatch to the President^), and
that the worst that could now happen would be the con-
tinuance of the retreat within our lines. The combat at
Chantilly on the evening of September ist was the last
of Pope's long series of bloody engagements, and though
the enemy was repulsed, the loss of Generals Kearny
and Stevens made it seem to us like another disaster.

1 O. R.. vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 748. ^ Id., vol. xi. pt. i. p. 98.



McClellan's visits to my position — Riding the lines — Discussing the past
campaign — The withdrawal from the James — Prophecy — McClellan
and the soldiers — He is in command of the defences — Intricacy of offi-
cial relations — Reorganization begun — Pope's army marches through
our works — Meeting of McClellan and Pope — Pope's characteristics —
Undue depreciation of him — The situation when Halleck was made
General-in-Chief — Pope's part in it — Reasons for dislike on the part of
the Potomac Array — McClellan's secret service — Deceptive informa-
tion of the enemy's force — Information from prisoners and citizens —
Effects of McClellan's illusion as to Lee's strength — Halleck's previous
career — Did he intend to take command in the field ? — His abdication
of the field command — The necessity for a union of forces in Virginia —
McClellan's inaction was Lee's opportunity — Slow transfer of the Army
of the Potomac — Halleck burdened with subordinate's work — Burnside
twice declines the command — It is given to McClellan — Pope relieved
— Other changes in organization — Consolidation — New campaign

ON Sunday, the 31st, McClellan rode over to Upton's
Hill and spent most of the day with me. He
brought me a copy of the McDowell map of the country
about Washington, the compilation of which had been
that officer's first work at the beginning of hostilities.
It covered the region to and beyond the Bull Run battle-
field, and although not wholly accurate, it was approxi-
mately so, and was the only authority relied upon for
topographical details of the region. McClellan's primary
purpose was to instruct me as to the responsibilities that
might fall upon me if the army should be driven in. A
day or two later I received formal orders to prepare to
destroy buildings in front within my lines of artillery


fire, and to be ready to cover the retreat of our army
should any part be driven back near my position. ^ All
this, however, had been discussed with McClellan him-
self. We rode together over all the principal points in
the neighborhood, and he pointed out their relation to
each other and to positions on the map which we did not
visit. The discussion of the topography led to reminis-
cences of the preceding year, — of the manner in which
the enemy had originally occupied these hills, and of
their withdrawal from them, — of the subsequent con-
struction of the forts and connecting lines, who occupied
them all, and the system of mutual support, of telegraphic
communication, and of plans for defence in case of attack.
McClellan had received me at Alexandria on the 27th
with all his old cordiality, and had put me at once upon
our accustomed footing of personal friendship. On my
part, there was naturally a little watchfulness not to
overstep the proper line of subordination or to be in-
quisitive about things he did not choose to confide to
me; but, this being assumed, I found myself in a circle
where he seemed to unbosom himself with freedom. I
saw no interruption in this while I remained in the Poto-
mac Army. He was, at this time, a little depressed in
manner, feeling keenly his loss of power and command,
but maintaining a quiet dignity that became him better
than any show of carelessness would have done. He
used no bitter or harsh language in criticising others.
Pope and McDowell he plainly disliked, and rated them
low as to capacity for command; but he spoke of them
without discourtesy or vilification. I think it necessary
to say this because of the curious sidelight thrown on his
character by the private letters to his wife which have
since been published in his "Own Story," and of which
I shall have more to say. Their inconsistency with his
expressions and manner in conversation, or at least their

1 O. R., vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 802, 805.


great exaggeration of what he conveyed in familiar talk,
has struck me very forcibly and unpleasantly.

He discussed his campaign of the peninsula with ap-
parent unreserve. He condemned the decision to recall
him from Harrison's Landing, arguing that the one thing
to do in that emergency was to reinforce his army there
and make it strong enough to go on with its work and
capture Richmond. He said that if the government had
lost confidence in his ability to conduct the campaign to
a successful end, still it was unwise to think of anything
else except to strengthen that army and give it to some
one they could trust. He added explicitly, " If Pope was
the man they had faith in,, then Pope should have been
sent to Harrison's Landing to take command, and how-
ever bitter it would have been, I should have had no just
reason to complain. " He predicted that they would yet
be put to the cost of much life and treasure to get back
to the position left by him.

On Monday, September ist, he visited me again, and we
renewed our riding and our conversation. The road from
his headquarters encampment near Alexandria to Upton's
Hill was a pleasant one for his " constitutional " ride, and
my position was nearest the army in front where news
from it would most likely be first found. The Army
of the Potomac had all passed to the front from Alexan-
dria, and according to the letter of the orders issued, he
was wholly without command; though Halleck person-
ally directed him to exercise supervision over all detach-
ments about the works and lines. He came almost alone
on these visits, an aide and an orderly or two being his
only escort. Colonel Colburn of his staff was usually
his companion. He wore a blue flannel hunting-shirt
quite different from the common army blouse. It was
made with a broad yoke at the neck, and belt at the
waist, the body in plaits. He was without sash or side
arms, or any insignia of rank except inconspicuous shoul-


der-straps. On this day he was going into Washington,
and I rode down with him to the bridge. Bodies of
troops of the new levies were encamped at different points
near the river. In these there seemed to be always some
veterans or officers who knew the general, and the men
quickly gathered in groups and cheered him. He had a
taking way of returning such salutations. He went be-
yond the formal military salute, and gave his cap a little
twirl, which with his bow and smile seemed to carry a
little of personal good fellowship even to the humblest
private soldier. If the cheer was repeated, he would
turn in his saddle and repeat the salute. It was very
plain that these little attentions to the troops took well,
and had no doubt some influence in establishing a sort
of comradeship between him and them. They were part
of an attractive and winning deportment which adapted
itself to all sorts and ranks of men.

On Tuesday he came a little later in the day, and I
noticed at once a change in his appearance. He wore
his yellow sash with sword and belt buckled over it, and
his face was animated as he greeted me with " Well, Gen-
eral, I am in command again ! " I congratulated him
with hearty earnestness, for I was personally rejoiced at
it. I was really attached to him, believed him to be, on
the whole, the most accomplished officer I knew, and was
warmly disposed to give him loyal friendship and ser-
vice. He told me of his cordial interview with Presi-
dent Lincoln, and that the latter had said he believed
him to be the only man who could bring organized shape
out of the chaos in which everything seemed then to be.
The form of his new assignment to duty was that he was
to "have command of the fortifications of Washington,
and of all the troops for the defence of the capital. " ^
The order was made by the personal direction of the
President, and McClellan knew that Secretary Stanton

1 O. R., vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 807.


did not approve of it. General Halleck seemed glad to
be rid of a great responsibility, and accepted the Presi-
dent's action with entire cordiality. Still, he was no
doubt accurate in writing to Pope later that the action
was that of the President alone without any advice from
him.i McClellan was evidently and entirely happy in
his personal relation to things. He had not been re-
lieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac,
though the troops had passed temporarily to Pope's array.
As commandant of all within the defences, his own army
reported to him directly when they came within our
lines. Pope's army of northern Virginia would, of
course, report through its commander, and Burnside's
in a similar way. The first thing to be done was to get
the army in good condition, to strengthen its corps by
the new regiments which were swarming toward the
capital, and to prepare it for a new campaign. McClellan
seemed quite willing to postpone the question who would
command when it took the field. Of the present he was
sure. It was in his own hands, and the work of reorgani-
zation was that in which his prestige was almost sure to
increase. This attitude was plainly shown in all he said
and in all he hinted at without fully saying it.

Halleck had already directed Pope to bring the army
within the fortifications, though the latter had vainly
tried to induce him to ride out toward Centreville, to
see the troops and have a consultation there before de-
termining what to do.2 We were therefore expecting the
head of column to approach my lines, and I arranged that
we should be notified when they came near. McClellan
had already determined to put the corps and divisions of
the Army of the Potomac in the works, at positions sub-
stantially the same as they had occupied a year before, —
Porter near Chain Bridge, Sumner next, Franklin near
Alexandria, etc. I was directed to continue in the posi-
1 O. R., vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 820. 2 7^.^ p. yg5_


tion I already occupied, to be supported by part of
McDowell's corps.

About four o'clock McClellan rode forward, and I
accompanied him. We halted at the brow of the hill
looking down the Fairfax road. The head of the column
was in sight, and rising dust showed its position far be-
yond. Pope and McDowell, with the staff, rode at the
head. Their uniform and that of all the party was cov-
ered with dust, their beards were powdered with it ; they
looked worn and serious, but alert and self-possessed.
When we met, after brief salutations, McClellan an-
nounced that he had been ordered to assume command
within the fortifications, and named to General Pope the
positions the several corps would occupy. This done,
both parties bowed, and the cavalcade moved on. King's
division of McDowell's corps was the leading one, Gen-
eral Hatch, the senior brigadier, being in command by
reason of King's illness. Hatch was present, near Pope,
when McClellan assumed command, and instantly turn-
ing rode a few paces to the head of his column and
shouted, "Boys, McClellan is in command again; three
cheers ! " The cheers were given with wild delight, and
were taken up and passed toward the rear of the column.
Warm friend of McClellan as I was, I felt my flesh
cringe at the unnecessary affront to the unfortunate com-
mander of that army. But no word was spoken. Pope
lifted his hat in a parting salute to McClellan and rode
quietly on with his escort.^

McClellan remained for a time, warmly greeted by the
passing troops. He then left me, and rode off toward
Vienna, northward. According to my recollection, Colo-

1 General Hatch had been in command of the cavalry of Banks's corps
up to the battle of Cedar Mountain, when he was relieved by Pope's order
by reason of dissatisfaction with his handling of that arm of the service.
His assignment to a brigade of infantry in King's division was such a reduc-
tion of his prominence as an officer that it would not be strange if it chafed


nel Colburn was the only member of his staff with him;
they had a small cavalry escort. My understanding also
was that they proposed to return by Chain Bridge, avoid-
ing the crowding of the road on which they had come
out, and on which McDowell's corps was now moving.
In his " Own Story " McClellan speaks of going in that
direction to see the situation of Sumner's troops, sup-
posed to be attacked, and intimates a neglect on Pope's
part of a duty in that direction. I am confident he is
mistaken as to this, and that I have given the whole in-
terview between him and Pope. The telegraphic connec-
tion with my headquarters was such that he could learn
the situation in front of any part of the line much more
promptly there than by riding in person. Lee did not
pursue, in fact, beyond Fairfax C. H. and Centreville,
and nothing more than small bodies of cavalry were in our
vicinity. I had kept scouting-parties of our own cavalry
active in our front, and had also collected news from
other sources. On the ist of September I had been able
to send to army headquarters authentic information of the
expectation of the Confederate army to move into Mary-
land, and every day thereafter added to the evidence of
that purpose, until they actually crossed the Potomac on
the 5th. 1

Hatch's division was put into the lines on my left with
orders to report to me in case of attack. Patrick's bri-
gade of that division was next day placed near Falls
Church in support of my cavalry, reporting directly to
me. My two regiments which had been with Pope re-
joined the division, and made it complete again. The
night of the 2d was one in which I was on the alert all
night, as it was probable the enemy would disturb us
then if ever; but it passed quietly. A skirmish in our
front on the Vienna road on the 4th was the only enliv-

1 O. R., vol. xii. pt. ii. pp. 404, 405; vol. xix. pt. ii. p. 170; vol. li. pt. L
P- 777.


ening event till we began the campaign of South Moun-
tain and Antietam on the 6th.

Pope's proposed reorganization of his army/ which
would have put me with most of Sigel's corps under
Hooker, was prevented by a larger change which relieved
him of command and consolidated his army with that of
the Potomac on September 5th. ^ I had a very slight
acquaintance with Pope at the beginning of the war, but
no opportunity of increasing it till he assumed command
in Virginia and I reported to him as a subordinate.
The events just sketched had once more interfered with
my expected association with him, and I did not meet
him again till long afterward. Then I came to know
him well. His wife and the wife of my intimate friend
General Force were sisters, and in Force's house we often
met. He was then broken in health and softened by
personal afflictions.^ His reputation in 1861 was that of
an able and energetic man, vehement and positive in
character, apt to be choleric and even violent toward
those who displeased him. I remember well that I
shrunk a little from coming under his immediate orders
through fear of some chafing, though I learned in the
army that choleric commanders, if they have ability, are
often warmly appreciative of those who serve them with
soldierly spirit and faithfulness. No one who had any
right to judge questioned Pope's ability or his zeal in
the National cause. His military career in the West had
been a brilliant one. The necessity for uniting the col-
umns in northern Virginia into one army was palpable ;
but it was a delicate question to decide who should com-

1 O. R., vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 810. ^ Id., p. 813.

" Mrs. Pope and Mrs. Force were daughters of the Hon. V. B. Horton,
of Pomeroy, Ohio, a public man of solid influence and character, and prom-
inent in the development of the coal and salt industries of the Ohio valley.
I leave the text as I wrote it some years before General Pope's death.
Since he died, the friendship of our families has culminated in a marriage
between our children.


mand them. It seems to have been assumed by Mr. Lin-
coln that the commander must be a new man, — neither
Fremont, McDowell, nor Banks. The reasons were prob-
ably much the same as those which later brought Grant
and Sheridan from the West.

Pope's introduction to the Eastern army, which I have
already mentioned, was an unfortunate one; but neither
he nor any one else could have imagined the heat of par-
tisan spirit or the lengths it would run. No personal
vilification was too absurd to be credited, and no charac-
terization was too ridiculous to be received as true to the
life. It was assumed that he had pledged himself to take
Richmond with an army of 40,000 men when McClellan
had failed to do so with 100,000. His defeat by Lee
was taken to prove him contemptible as a commander,
by the very men who lauded McClellan for having
escaped destruction from the same army. There was
neither intelligence nor consistency in the vituperation
with which he was covered ; but there was abundant proof
that the wounded amour propre of the officers and men of
the Potomac Army made them practically a unit in in-
tense dislike and distrust of him. It may be that this
condition of things destroyed his possibility of useful-
ness at the East; but it would be asking too much of
human nature (certainly too much of Pope's impetuous
nature) to ask him to take meekly the office of scapegoat
for the disastrous result of the whole campaign. His
demand on Halleck that he should publish the approval
he had personally given to the several steps of the move-
ments and combats from Cedar Mountain to Chantilly
was just, but it was imprudent.^ Halleck was irritated,
and made more ready to sacrifice his subordinate. Mr.
Lincoln was saddened and embarrassed; but being per-
suaded that Pope's usefulness was spoiled, he swallowed
his own pride and sense of justice, and turned again

1 O. R., vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 812, 821.


to McClellan as the resource in the emergency of the

Pope seems to me entirely right in claiming that Jack-
son's raid to Manassas was a thing which should have
resulted in the destruction of that column. He seems
to have kept his head, and to have prepared his combina-
tions skilfully for making Jackson pay the penalty of his
audacity. There were a few hours of apparent hesitation
on August 28th, but champions of McClellan should be the
last to urge that against him. His plans were deranged
on that day by the accident of McDowell's absence from
his own command. This happened through an excess of
zeal on McDowell's part to find his commander and give
him the benefit of his knowledge of the topography of
the country; yet it proved a serious misfortune, and shows
how perilous it is for any officer to be away from his
troops, no matter for what reason. Many still think
Porter's inaction on the 29th prevented the advantage
over Jackson from becoming a victory.^ But after all,
when the army was united within our lines, the injuries
it had inflicted on the enemy so nearly balanced those
it had received that if Grant or Sherman had been in
Halleck's place, Lee would never have crossed the Poto-
mac into Maryland. McClellan, Pope, and Burnside
would have commanded the centre and wings of the
united and reinforced army, and under a competent head
it would have marched back to the Rappahannock with
scarcely a halt.

That Halleck was in command was, in no small meas-
ure. Pope's own work. He reminded Halleck of this in
his letter of September 30th, written when he was chafing
under the first effects of his removal. ^ "If you desire,"
said he, " to know the personal obligation to which I refer,

1 I have treated this subject at large in "The Second Battle of Bull Run
as connected with the Fitz-John Porter Case.''

2 O. R., vol. xii. pt. iii. pp. 816, etc.


I commend you to the President, the Secretary of War, or
any other member of the administration. Any of these can
satisfy your inquiries." This means that he had, before
the President and the cabinet, advocated putting Halleck
in supreme command over himself and McClellan to give
unity to a campaign that would else be hopelessly broken
down. McClellan was then at Harrison's Landing, be-
lieving Lee's army to be 200,000 strong, and refusing to
listen to any suggestion except that enormous reinforce-
ments should be sent to him there. He had taught the
Army of the Potomac to believe implicitly that the Con-
federate army was more than twice as numerous as it was
in fact. With this conviction it was natural that they
should admire the generalship which had saved them
from annihilation. They accepted with equal faith the
lessons which came to them from headquarters teaching
that the " radicals " at Washington were trying for politi-
cal ends to destroy their general and them. In regard to
the facts there were varying degrees of intelligence among
officers and men ; but there was a common opinion that
they and he were willingly sacrificed, and that Pope, the
radical, was to succeed him. This made them hate Pope,
for the time, with holy hatred. If the army could at that
time have compared authentic tables of strength of Lee's
army and their own, the whole theory would have col-
lapsed at once, and McClellan 's reputation and popular-
ity with it. They did not have the authentic tables, and
fought for a year under the awful cloud created by a
blundering spy-system.

The fiction as to Lee's forces is the most remarkable
in the history of modern wars. Whether McClellan was
the victim or the accomplice of the inventions of his
"secret service," we cannot tell. It is almost incredible

Online LibraryJacob D. (Jacob Dolson) CoxMilitary reminiscences of the civil war → online text (page 21 of 45)