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What Happened in January 1862 ©
Congress in Session
The Cause and Object of the War
|The Confederate Defense of Tennessee|
|The Union Invasion of Tennessee|
With the disappearance of the Southern Democrats from the thirty-seventh Congress, in July 1861, the position taken by the Lincoln government that the object of the war was to preserve the Union intact began to change in the second session. The change was expressed in increasingly loud speeches by the Republican radicals, inducing the conservatives—still a strong group—to respond with their own diatribes.
Mr. Horace Maynard, a new member to the House, representing a district in east Tennessee, was one of the first to take the floor and express the view that the abolition of slavery, not the preservation of the Union, was the central purpose of prosecuting the war against the seceded states. Mr. Maynard was born in Massachusetts and was graduated from Amherst College, in 1838. He migrated to Tennessee where he took up the practice of law.
What To Do With The Negroes
Loyal slaveholders in both ends of this Capitol oppose emancipation of the slaves of rebels and publicly declare that such a measure would consolidate the people of the South as one man against the Union. They do not conceal the fact that they consider slavery paramount to the Union. Since I cannot possibly accommodate them, I divide with them on principle.
I must not conclude without noticing a further objection to the policy for which I contend. I refer to the alleged danger of this policy and the disposition of the slaves after they shall be free. First, if I am right in dealing with the rebellion as the child of slavery, it will not do to talk about consequences, for no possible consequence of emancipation can be worse than destroying the Government. Do you ask me if I would `turn the slaves loose?' I reply that this rebellion, threatening to desolate our land, is the consequence of holding them in chains. Do you ask me what I would do with these liberated millions? I answer by asking what they will do with us if we insist on keeping them in bondage. Do you tell me that if the slaves are set free they will rise against their former masters, pillage and lay waste to the South? I answer, that all that, should it happen, would be far less deplorable than a struggle like this. If, therefore, our policy is to be determined by the question of consequences, the argument is clearly on the side of universal emancipation.
I answer next that if the slaves are set free they will not be pent up. They will occupy a country stretching between two oceans, vast portions of which are yet a wilderness. There is not only abundant room for them, but abundant need of their labor. They are not unfamiliar with industrial pursuits, and if compensated for their labor, and acted upon by kindness, they will not only take care of themselves, but become a mighty element of wealth in the lattitudes of our country peculiarly suited to their constitution (how he sneaks it in). Their local attachments are remarkable, and, but for slavery they would not be found either in Canada or the Northern States. Remove slavery, and I believe the negro race among us will naturally gravitate towards a center of its own, and separate itself from the race of its former oppressors. Our prejudice, borrowed from slavery, and still continuing to hold sway, may aid this result. (There you have it, ladies and gentlemen the true cause of the Civil War: White Racism.)
But I would give them their freedom, and then leave them to the law of their condition (sink or swim). Let them work out their own destiny, and let them have fair play for fighting the battle of life."
Mr. John Bingham, of Ohio, a graduate of Franklin College and a lawyer, followed Maynard with this.
Necessity Trumps The Constitution
And yet, sir, we have been admonished upon this floor that necessity is the plea of tyrants. Does it result that a Government wickedly assailed and threatened with overthrow, may not protect and preserve its own existence by arms? Why sir, it is the accepted maxim of the law of nations that whatever is necessary for the preservation of the Government is just. When a nation is driven to the assertion of its rights by war, it has the right to do against the enemy whatever it finds necessary for the attainment of that end. Right goes hand in hand with necessity. War may be wrongfully levied by citizens of a state against their own Government. (Of course, it is not "citizens of a state" that is levying war against Bingham's government, but a State, indeed a group of States) This last is the war which today shakes the Republic, and of which the Constitution speaks when it declares, `that treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies.' In the suppression of this treasonable war against the Constitution, the Government, by law, may by force do all that is necessary.
Are The Rebels "Citizens" or "Aliens"?
Under the law of nations, the private property of alien enemies cannot be taken. But what is forbidden toward alien enemies waging war against us by the authority of their sovereign (This is the true basis of the resistance of the seceded states to the aggression of the Union), is expressly allowed by the Constitution toward these rebels. Every one of them taken in the overt act of rebellion, inasmuch as he (the individual) is a citizen of the United States and owes allegiance to the Government of the United States may be treated as traitor." (How can General Lee be a "citizen of the United States" when such "citizenship"—in the express language of the Constitution before amended in 1865—depends upon his status as a citizen of his native State, Virginia, and Virginia is, as a matter of fact, not a member of the "United States"? As a matter of Law, if the rebel is characterized as a "citizen of the United States," under the Constitution, the Lincoln government cannot seize his property; if the rebel is characterized as an alien enemy, under the Law of Nations, the Lincoln government cannot take his property without compensation. See, for example, how Britain, after the Revolution and the War of 1812, by treaty with the United States, compensated slaveholders for the loss of their property seized by Britain during the wars)
Mr. Wadsworth, of Kentucky, replied to this.
"Kentucky has taken her stand and grasped the sword of the Union. She has now put twenty-eight regiments in the field. Thirty thousand of her citizens are battling on the side of the Union. We knew the risk we ran when, deserted by our natural supporters, we remained faithful to the Union. But we trusted in your fairness, we trusted in your Chicago platform declaration, we trusted in your unanimous vote in this House that you had no power and no intent to interfere with slavery in the States, we trusted in your williness even to amend the Constitution, by the joint resolution passed in July, which you passed by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, forever depriving Congress of the power to interfere with slavery in the States.
Now, after Kentucky has remained firm, notwithstanding that ten of her sisters have gone with South Carolina, we want to know whether you mean to fling her into that vortex which has swallowed so many kindred States? I tell you, Gentlemen, who favor the policy of Mr. Bingham that you mean no less than this. It will be said that it was not the valor and policy of treason that wrecked the Republic, but the folly and treachery of loyalty.
You are for confiscation and emancipation, you say, in order to destroy the resources of the rebellion, but none of you explain how that course will put an end to the rebellion. You say it will not result in a slave insurrection; you say you do not want to put John Brown's pikes in the hands of the slaves to murder our white population. You do not want to do these things. Well, then, how do you propose, by carrying out your course of policy, to put an end to the rebellion? How, except by a slave insurrection? That is what Bingham means, that is what Maynard means.
Sir, is it true that you cannot put down the white population in the rebellious States by the strong arm of the white population of the loyal States, that you talk about arming the slaves? Will you admit that twenty odd millions of us cannot overcome one third that number without invoking the help of slaves and this institution of slavery, which you say is a weakness and curse to those who have it?
I say the first attempt to emancipate slaves will necessarily result in the enlargement of the boundaries of the rebellion. Millions in the revolted states, now loyal, with one heart, will join the foe. That instant the people of Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky would resist the execution of such an act; that instant the loyal men, who have not gone into the war to accomplish Africanization of our society, will disband. Everything would compel them to throw down their arms. They would revolt at the idea of having been drawn into a war under the pretense of sustaining the Union, but in fact for the purpose of forcing emancipation upon the slaves of the South. (These concerns underpinned Lincoln's original policy; once they waned in his mind, so, too, did the policy.)
Then how would you fight your battles? I see you leading the charge against the regiments of rebellion and the war would be brought to a speedy conclusion led by men like you. If you commit the great blunder of making this war for emancipation, there will arise the great danger of a quarrel among ourselves. Will you abolish slavery in the District of Columbia? Will you nullify the Fugitive Slave Law? Will you confiscate the slaves? Will you try to divide the State of Virginia? Then the war will enlarge its proportion. (Within a matter of months, the Lincoln government would do these things.)
This day you have to make the choice. If you are for the emancipation of the slaves, you arm each man of those states against you. You must chose between negro slavery or the white people of fifteen States in opposition to you. The Free States could not conquer fifteen slave States. You might defeat armies, overthrow them in battle, but fresh armies would spring up when the question is between liberty and extermination."
What Are The Negroes?
Mr. Samuel C. Fessenden, of Maine, a graduate of Bowdoin College, a pastor, and brother of Senator William Fessenden, breaks in.
"Sir, I am to be found with those who plant themselves squarely on the ground that the aim of this war is to preserve the Government of the United States (i.e, preserve the Union). This is the aim of the war. But it is as to means that we differ. No slavery—no Union, you say; but the people of nineteen States may declare, No liberty, no Union. I cannot but think, though the honorable gentleman from Kentucky will not agree with me, that sooner or later the people of the North and the West will choose No Liberty No Union, since choose them must."
Mr. William Steele, of New Jersey, answered Fessenden.
"It is not true, sir, that slavery is an outlaw to this Government. It is guaranteed by the Constitution and was part of the consideration for the original compact, upon which our Government and Constitution were founded. It has always existed with us, and with it we have prospered beyond every other nation on the earth. These gentlemen, sir, who grow so ferociously eloquent over their emancipation idea, do not tell us what they propose to do with their black brethren when they get them. Possibly they think their equalizing and humanizing philanthropy has so far elevated the character and tastes of the white men that they will consider it a privilege to fight side by side with black slaves. Let them try it. No, sir, we will not let them thus degrade and disgrace our brave soldiers; but, if they had the power to try it, they would find that human instincts were stronger than all their fine-spun theories.
I do not stand here as the advocate for slavery; I have no love for that institution—quite the contrary, but I remember that it was introduced here by our fathers, and by them engrafted upon our Constitution, so that to each State, as an independent sovereignty, was secured the exclusive power and right to retain or abolish it. "
Mr. Henrick Wright, of Pennsylvania, adds his view.
'What did the President mean by alleging, when he called a military force into the field, that there should be no interference whatever with property of any kind? Sir, if he meant anything, he meant that the question of slavery should be let alone. If you adopt the doctrines advanced by Mr. Bingham and declare that four millions of slaves shall be set free, you do interfere with the rights of property and you do oppose the Executive.
Mr. Chairman, the next thing that was done in the process of time, defining the object of the war, was the adoption of the resolutions offered by Mr. Crittenden upon the 4th of July last. On July 22, the House, with only two dissenting votes, passed these resolutions. The resolutions defined the object of the war and declared that the war was not being fought in any spirit or purpose to overthrow or interfere with slavery, but to defend and maintain the Government. That was the platform upon which the House sustained Lincoln in the war. This is no war for slave emancipation; it is to put down rebellion and treason.
What will be the effect, sir, if you change the policy of the war, and make it a war of negro emancipation? The six hundred thousand men in the field this day, enlisted with the pledge of the Government that they were fighting to save the Union. I venture to say there are not three thousand who went into the field with any other impression. It is the battles of the white man that they are enlisted to fight, and not the battles of the black man."
Mr. Bingham breaks in.
"Pray, sir, who are the citizens of the States?"
Mr. Wright replies.
I will tell the gentleman. Each State, not having yielded the power of declaring citizenship in the Constitution, reserved it to herself, and Pennsylvania has not only decided through her courts, but has adopted it as a cardinal principle in her constitution, that black men are not citizens." (This reservation the States—some of them coerced—gave up upon the passage of the 14th amendment.)
Are you not aware that five States have adopted constitutional provisions prohibiting black people from coming into their territory?"
"There is no such provision in my State. And, anyway, they are citizens of the United States are they not?" (Mr. Bingham ignores the Supreme Court's holding in, 1856, in In Re Dred Scott.)
"If this degraded class of people called slaves are citizens, then I concede that no State has a right to pass a law prohibiting their migration into it. But let me say to the gentleman that if his army of four millions of slave were to commence their march into Ohio and Pennsylvania it would be worse upon those States than the plagues of Egypt.
If those gentlemen who want to carry out this ultra policy will but stand by Abraham Lincoln as the conservative men of this body will stand by him, six months shall not pass away before the rebellion is dead, the national flag restored and the nation's glory vindicated. Why not confine ourselves to the legitimate issues of the war—to save the white race—and not adopt the other alternative, which is the destroy it." (Had Wright's prophecy proved accurate, slavery would have survived the Civil War.)
At this the hammer fell.
Lincoln And His Generals
Abraham Lincoln was, without question, a very good trial lawyer and politician, but a general he was not. In the first days of January 1862, with McClellan still sick in bed, Lincoln stepped into the chain of command and began communicating directly with Henry Halleck, commander of the Department of Missouri, and Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Department of the Ohio. He was prompted to do this, because he had received a copy of a memorandum Buell had written to McClellan in which Buell proposed that he should march his army from Louisville to Nashville, while Halleck directed a force against the Memphis & Ohio Railroad where it crosses the Tennessee River, just above the Confederates' Fort Henry. Lincoln, wrote Buell on January 3: "Have arms gone forward for East-Tennessee?" Buell answered him with, "Arms can only go forward under the protection of an army. Better to use the army in an attack on Nashville."
Buell and Halleck in Kentucky
Lincoln responded to this with a letter that set forth a plan of operation that McClellan had been pushing, but Buell had been resisting.
"Your dispatch disappoints and distresses me. I would rather have a point on the Tennessee & Virginia Railroad south of Cumberland Gap than Nashville, first because it cuts a great artery of the enemies' communications, which Nashville does not, and, secondly, because it is in the midst of loyal people while Nashville is not."
The Situation in the Upper Mississippi Valley
Eads' Construction Yard at Carondelet
The Confederate Government contracted for the construction of similar gunboats, and several were being built at New Orleans, the only place in the South which possessed the necessary heavy equipment and skilled tradesmen the construction effort required. These boats were of no use to Johnston, because there was no way to get them onto the waters of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
Looking over the map of Kentucky and northern Tennessee, Johnston recognized that, with the use of Union naval power, the Union infantry force at Cairo might at any moment come up the Tennessee River, attack and seize Fort Henry, and then destroy the railroad bridge that carries the Memphis & Ohio Railroad across the Tennessee.
The Railroad Bridge over the Tennessee
With the bridge over the Tennessee River destroyed, Johnson's force, under Polk, at Columbus, would be cut off from reinforcing his force at Bowling Green and vice versus. Therefore, it was crucial to the Confederates' control of Kentucky territory that Fort Henry and For Donelson be defended at all costs—but how to do this, given the resources available to Johnston, was more than problematical, it objectively seems, under the circumstances, to have been impossible. For, if Johnston were to use a substantial part, if not all, of the Confederate force at Bowling Green to reinforce the forts, there was nothing to prevent Buell, with his 50,000 soldiers, from immediately following the Confederates down the railroad, and either attack the forts or pass directly to Nashville, Johnston's base of supply. If this happened, all of Kentucky and most of Tennessee, west of Chattanooga, would be instantly lost to the Confederacy.
Notwithstanding the obvious strategic advantage against Johnston the Union forces, under Halleck and Buell, enjoyed, McClellan, who had his own agenda at the forefront of his mind, wrote to Buell on January 6th: "My own general plans make the speedy occupation of East Tennessee of absolute necessity, Interesting as Nashville is to the Louisville interests, its strikes me that its possession is of very secondary importance. Lincoln followed this, with messages to both Halleck and Buell, asking them to state the date they would move—Buell to move toward the Tennessee & Virginia Railroad (i.e., toward Knoxville) and Halleck moving on Polk's force at Columbus, the idea being that Grant's move would keep Johnston from being reinforced as he moved northeast to block Buell's move toward the southeast.
Halleck replied to Lincoln the same day:
"The enemy has 22,000 at Columbus. I have at Cairo and Paducah only 15,000 men, which leaving guards, gives me only 10,000 to help Buell. It would be madness to attempt anything serious with such a force, and I cannot at present time withdraw from Missouri without risking the loss of the state. Price and others have a considerable army in the Southwest which I am operating with all my available force."
Shortly after the receipt of Lincoln's message, Buell replied that he would acquiesce in Lincoln's wishes, and Lincoln responded with this bewildering letter:
"My general idea of this war is that we have the greater numbers, and the enemy has the greater facility of concentrating forces upon points of collision. We must fail, therefore, unless we can find some way of making our advantage an over-match for his. This can be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points, at the same time, so that we can safely attack one or both, and if he weakens one to strengthen the other, we can stand on the defensive against the strengthened one, and move against the weakened one.
To illustrate, suppose last summer, when Winchester (Joe Johnston's force in the Shenandoah Valley) ran away to re-enforce Manassas (Beauregard's force at Bull Run), we had forborne to attack Manassas, but had seized and held Winchester. I mention this, not to criticize. I did not lose confidence in McDowell, and I think less harshly of Patterson than some others seem to. (If he did not lose confidence in McDowell, why did he call for McClellan to come east less than twenty-four hours after the battle?)
Applying this principle to your case, my idea is that Halleck shall menace Columbus, while you menace Bowling Green, and East Tennessee. If the enemy shall concentrate at Bowling Green, leave him there and seize East Tennessee while Halleck seizes Columbus." (Leave him there to march on Louisville?)
Then he ends with this: "It is matter of no small anxiety to me that the East Tennessee line is so long, and over so bad a road." (edited for clarity)(The distance between Louisville and Knoxville, with the Alleghenies in the way, is 250 miles. The distance from Louisville to Bowling Green is 113 miles, between Louisville and Nashville, 175 miles, and there is a railroad all the way.)
Lincoln's letter to Buell goes a long way to show his incompetence at playing the general. First, had Lincoln left Scott and McDowell alone, in July of 1861, to plan and execute the operation against Manassas, instead of insisting that McDowell march directly to Bull Run and immediately attack the enemy, the Union army probably would have been successful in eventually forcing the rebel force to retreat, with or without a battle. Plainly, to achieve this result, McDowell should have taken a defensive position at Centreville, to guard his right and rear, while moving his main body south through the woods and across the Occoquan River to Brentsville. Once securely positioned at Brentsville, McDowell then would have moved westward toward the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, with Broad Run protecting his right flank; the going here would have been slow and methodical, to be sure, as McDowell would be building fortifications as he advanced, but, even though Joe Johnston might arrive to augment Beauregard's force, McDowell, being reinforced from Washington, would have eventually gotten close enough to the railroad to compel the Confederates to withdraw behind the Rappahannock. It might have taken McDowell several months to achieve this, but the odds are that he would have been successful.
The language of Lincoln's letter suggests that he seriously thought Patterson's force at the foot of the Shenandoah Valley could have either marched east to join McDowell, or marched south to engage Johnston in front of Winchester; yet, as Lincoln acknowledges in the letter, Patterson really did not have a force capable of doing either; given the fact that the enlistment time of almost all the regiments that composed it had expired and the soldiers were being mustered out, a consequence of the manner in which Lincoln first called upon the states for troops.
Second, Lincoln's invoking the military principle of interior lines is misplaced in the context of the strategic situation confronting Sidney Johnston, on the one hand, and Halleck and Buell on the other. In fact, a simple look at the map makes plain that, here, the Union had the "interior lines" and the Confederates, "exterior lines" which Buell, Halleck, and Grant well knew and were anxious to exploit. Forts Henry and Donelson were the center of Johnston's line, which extended from Columbus at the mouth of the Ohio, to Bowling Green. In order for a rebel force from one flank to move to the other flank, it would have to march forty miles or more to the south (or take the railroad) and go around the two forts and then march forty miles or more to the north, while Buell and Halleck could communicate with each other by the Ohio River in a straight line. Furthermore, destroying the railroad bridge across the Tennessee River would leave the Columbus force, if it marched to Bowling Green, with the challenge of fording the river in the winter time.
After receiving Lincoln's letter, Buell wired Halleck the suggestion that he dispatch two gunboat expeditions, supporting 20,000 troops, up the Tennessee and Cumberland, for the purpose of inducing Johnston to reinforce the river forts with his force at Bowling Green.
Halleck Starts Organizing An Attack on Fort Henry
Notwithstanding his position that he had no available force that could do anything substantial, Henry Halleck ordered Grant, on January 6, the same day he wired Lincoln he could do nothing to help Buell, to make a "demonstration. "Let it be understood that Fort Donelson is the object of your attack," he wrote. "But do not advance far enough to expose your flank and rear to attack from Columbus, and by all means avoid a serious engagement."
In response to this, Grant went out for a week with McClernand toward Columbus, splashing through mud, rain, and snow, while his subordinate, C.F. Smith, led a brigade, accompanied by gunboats, up the Tennessee as far as Fort Henry. Meanwhile, Buell sent a division southwestward from the vicinity of Louisville which attacked and routed a rebel force that had approached the Ohio River from the direction of the Cumberland Gap. Then, the day after Buell's force routed the rebel force, Halleck wired McClellan, who was now on his feet and dealing with Lincoln and the Radical politicians, that he meant to move up the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers and capture Nashville: "A feasible plan," he wrote, "is to move up the Cumberland and Tennessee, making Nashville the objective point. This would turn Columbus and force the abandonment of Bowling Green. The line of the Cumberland or Tennessee is the great central line of the Western theater of war."
Halleck followed this, on January 30, with, "Grant and Commodore Foote (in command of the flotilla of gunboats and steamers) will be ordered to immediately advance, and to reduce Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, and also cut the railroad between Fort Donelson and Paris." To Buell, Halleck wired: "I have ordered an advance of our troops on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. It will be made immediately. Buell responded, saying he needed more time to be able to cooperate with the plan. Halleck replied: "Cooperation not essential."
That Lincoln was well aware of the evolving plan to use the gunboats to get up the river and attack Fort Henry is shown by this message to Stanton, dated January 23: "I think you better make a peremptory order on the ordnance officer at Pittsburg to ship the ten mortars and two beds to Cairo instantly, and all others as fast as finished, til ordered to stop, reporting each shipment to the department here."
Burnside in North Carolina
The North Carolina Coast
On the night of January 11th, Burnside's fleet was at sea in a severe storm, beating its way south from Hampton Roads. During the transition the fleet took much damage but all vessels eventually arrived off Hatteras Inlet. The inlet, itself, had been seized several months earlier, by an expedition sent out from Fort Monroe by Ben Butler and it was through the inlet the vessels of Burnside's fleet had to sail, to reach the sound and Roanoke Island. In attempting the fleet's transfer from the open sea to the sound, the propeller ship, City of New York, laden with supplies and ordnance stores, grounded on the bar and its crew had to be rescued by surf-boats. One of the troop vessels also grounded on the bar, but a tug boat got her off and into the sound. Such of the vessels that could not cross the bar anchored under the protection of the cape. The ship Pocahontas was lost and the gunboat, Zouave, was sunk in the sound after she crossed the bar. From the 14th of January until the 26th, storms battered the fleet, driving many of the vessels from their anchors, grounding several on the swash and the bar. Many collisions occurred, causing further damage to the fleet. Finally, as the storms fell away, the fleet vessels gained the sound, Roanoke Island was seized, and Burnside moved to the mainland and toward New Bern.
Mrs Chestnut, in her dairy, wrote on January 15th: "There is a ray of sunlight on the horizon's edge—but Burnside is afloat. And like the dog, who knows where he will nip. We have not men enough even to watch Port Royal."
On November 12, Lincoln had ordered that a naval expedition be fitted out for the capture of New Orleans. Farragut was given its command, with a flotilla of gunboats to be built, under D.D.Porter's command. On January 20, Farragut assumed command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and reached his station at the mouth of the Mississippi on January 20. Eventually Farragut would accumulate seventeen armed vessels, carrying 177 guns.
The Mouth of the Mississippi
The Confederates had constructed two forts at the mouth: Fort Jackson and Fort St.Philip, and were busy trying to complete construction of a 16 gun ironclad gunboat, Mississippi, and a ram, Manassas. Two other iron clads were under construction at New Orleans, and a third, Arkansas, was being built at Yazoo City.
McCLELLAN CONFOUNDS THE POLITICIANS
The honeymoon with the politicians was over by the time Mac recovered from his illness and appeared in the Cabinet Room and found those in attendance suffering an "excessive anxiety for an immediate movement of the army." In the first week of January, at the instigation of jealous officers, like Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, Lincoln had called into conference two of McClellan's division commanders, Major-General Irwin McDowell, a protégé of Salmon Chase, and Brigadier-General William B. Franklin, a personal friend of McClellan's.
The record is far from clear as to Lincoln's purpose in doing this. The civil war writers assume that Lincoln meant to seek advice "of some competent military minds as to the possibility of an early advance by the Army of the Potomac, as well as to discuss the best route upon which it should move." But, both officers had, in fact, testified at length on these issues before the Committee on the Conduct of the War and Lincoln certainly would have been fully informed what their opinions were. The Committee had extracted from Franklin, for example, the statement that he did not think the way into Virginia was to attack the rebel stronghold at Centreville
"It seems to me," Franklin had testified on December 26, "the best policy would be to take the whole strength of the army and pitch it into Virginia at some one point, say the Yorktown peninsula. If you land on York River then you can march to Richmond and have a general battle there, or, if necessary, besiege it and batter it down. The enemy at Manassas would be bound to evacuate their position there and go down to Richmond to fight us." As for McDowell, he had been asked, "Do you think it would be practicable to make an advance at this time of year?" And he had answered: "It would be difficult, and would involve a great deal of labor. The artillery would not be able to get off the roads. It is really a question whether the country can stand the delay necessary to give us a better opportunity for operations."
McDowell, who had been and at this time remained Salmon Chase's first choice to command the Army of the Potomac, was asked by Senator Chandler, of Michigan, this question:
"Do you believe an expedition could be made successfully by water—say a force collected at Fort Monroe and taken up the York River and so across to Richmond? Do you think a winter expedition of that sort to be practicable?"
McDowell had answered:
Then, Irwin McDowell wound up his lengthy answer with this:
"This would be a very heavy undertaking. Now, we have a large rebel force in front of us here, not very far off. I do not see why it is not as easy for us to go against them here as to go against Richmond."
The Committee then asked McDowell: "Have you ever thought about a movement on the left here, towards the railroad over which the rebels get their supplies?" And McDowell answered:
"When I was called upon to make a plan of operations to go against Manassas, my plan was to go by the left and get around their right, for I felt that if I once tapped their railroad line between there and Richmond they were gone; If you just cut that line, or made a demonstration to cut it, they would have to come out and give you battle."
Since Lincoln had more than enough understanding of what Franklin's and McDowell's views were concerning the nature of McClellan's probable operations, something else must have been the basis of his calling these men to the White House for consultation. Again, their testimony before the Committee gives the clue.
Franklin, hesitating, finally said to this: "Whether McClellan should tell his plans to all his generals, of divisions—for if he tells one he must tell all—is a question. It may be a question whether he had better not keep them all to himself. He may learn the views of his generals without giving his own. General McClellan has told me some things about his plans which I have not told you."
Lincoln met with Franklin and McDowell several times on January 10 and 11, calling in to the conferences from time to time, members of his Cabinet—Salmon Chase, Seward, and, eventually, Montgomery Blair.
As Franklin told the story: "On Friday evening, January 10, I received a dispatch, informing me that the President wished to see me. I went to Washington and was received in the President's office. Seward, Chase, and McDowell were present when I arrived. The President complained of the price of gold, of the goings-on in Congress, and of the virulence of the press, and, told me that he was depressed. Mr. Chase said that he thought the army should move forward to Manassas at once, and General McDowell said that, in his opinion, the army ought to be formed into army corps, and that a movement should be made at once toward Manassas. I told the President that I thought the army should be transported to York River, to operate against Richmond."
Lincoln's Office and Cabinet Room
According to Franklin's account, Lincoln told him and McDowell to go collect information regarding the readiness of the army to be moved into the field and report back to him. The next evening, the two officers returned to the White House and repeated their respective views of what should be done with the army. Chase, joined by Seward, again stated that the army should move at once toward Centreville. Blair disagreed, siding with Franklin that the water route to Richmond was better. The meeting broke up, to be resumed on Sunday, January 12. (On the 11th, Simon Cameron resigned his position as Secretary of War and Edwin Stanton, McClellan's supposed friend, was appointed in his place.)
Franklin continues: "On Sunday McDowell returned to the White House, with the information that the collection of water transportation for the movement to Fort Monroe would take at least a month. As this was being conveyed to Lincoln, Seward burst into the room, "I have seen General McClellan and he is a well man!" At this Lincoln adjourned the meeting, ordering everyone to return on Monday, January 13.
What Lincoln had intended by these meetings, and had succeeded in accomplishing, was to induce Franklin and McDowell to endorse his plan of operation, which was, in essence, McDowell's original plan of turning the rebel force out of Centreville by marching to Brentsville and challenging the rebels for possession of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad where it cross Board Run.
Here, McClellan tells his own story:
"McDowell, who was probably at the bottom of the affair, undertook it con amore, hoping to succeed me in command. Franklin was unwilling to touch it, and simply acted under orders. This information reached me when the crisis of my malady was over, and learning—through Stanton—that meetings were happening, I appeared unexpectedly at the White House and explained to the President what my intentions were (i.e., Mac told Lincoln his plan before he appeared at the meeting of January 13.) The President told me there would be a meeting the following day and invited me to attend.
At the designated hour I went to the President's office and there met a party consisting of Lincoln, McDowell, Franklin, Meigs, Seward, Chase, and Blair. Neither Cameron nor Stanton was present. Whispering then commenced between Lincoln and Chase; when at length Chase, in a very excited manner, said that I should then and there explain my military plans in detail, that they might be submitted to the approval or disapproval of the gentlemen present. I answered that only the President might address such a question to me. Indeed, some weeks before I had actually given Chase my plan for the movement to Urbana (York Peninsula). (This seems confirmed by Franklin's story which includes the remark that Chase told him the day before that he knew Mac's plan.)"
Lincoln's Council of War
As McClellan was brushing Chase off, Lincoln broke in with `"Tell us what your plans are." Since, according to Mac, Lincoln already knew what his plan was, Lincoln making this statement at this time suggests he meant to get the plans expressed in public which then would trigger a consensus among the attendees, of the plan's rejection in favor of a movement directly upon Centreville immediately—which is what Lincoln clearly wanted; he just didn't want to be the focus of the rejection of the Urbana movement. McClellan, quite intelligently, did not want to state his plan publicly, not because of fear the plan might leak out, but that it would be rejected by the majority and Lincoln would use the majority's rejection as an excuse to reject it himself. In essence, what Lincoln was doing here, was manufacturing a "council of war" and then using it as a tool to manipulate McClellan into doing what he wanted.
It is clear that, at this point in time, young George McClellan, a brilliant officer to be sure, was entering a period of severe personal conflict with his President which he was, given his character, bound to lose. The civil war writers, of course, happily criticize and mock him for this, but their spin is way off base, when it is remembered that Napoleon, who at the age of twenty-nine became Emperor of the French, lost his poise on at least two occasions, coming close to ruin: the first, at the bridge of Arcola as he tried to rally his men to cross in the face of the Austrians' fire, and the second at St. Cloud in the chamber of the Five Hundred.
From a purely military point of view, McClellan had the better idea how and when the Army of the Potomac should pitch into Virginia. Yes, it would have been, by January 1862, an easy thing for Mac to march his army of 120,000 men straight west, on the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, put a force head to head with Joe Johnston's at Centreville, and take the balance south through the woods and across the Occoquan to Brentsville; and then push his front toward Bristoe Station at Board Run. There would be delays in this process, caused by the weather, by supply issues, by Johnston's blocking moves, but eventually, inevitably, the superior numbers of the Union army would tell and Johnston would have to fall back to the Rappahannock.
Then the real slug would begin: first, the Union army would now turn toward Fredericksburg, to take advantage of the Acquia Creek landing and the railroad between Fredericksburg and Richmond, and in doing so would no doubt have to battle Johnston to get across the Rappahannock; second, move on now to confront Johnston at the next point he makes a stand, and the next point, until the army gets to the fortifications ringing Richmond where the siege begins.
This, of course, supposes that the Union army, in 1862, could have reached Richmond this way. Every mile south it moved, the army would have to post garrisons, to guard the railroad which rebel cavalry would surely be breaking continuously. Depots of supply would have to be established at twenty mile intervals, to support the army's vast appetite. And the casualties the army would suffer in the sequential battles with Johnston would have to be replaced, as well as the wagons, horses, and gun carriages the battles destroyed.
Yet this is clearly what Lincoln wanted McClellan to do. Why? The reason may have been that Lincoln knew in his soul the Union would prevail in the war, only if it became a war of attrition which the loyal states could not lose as long as they were willing to feed their young men into the fire. This, of course, McClellan understood, and it was exactly what McClellan did not want to happen. Mac was a Democrat, he made that exceedingly plain in his writings; all his friends and business associates were Democrats, and the Democrats could never come back into power—get control of the Government again—without the votes of the repatriated states. To keep some chance that the Democratic Party could reconstitute itself into a majority party meant that the war had to end as cleanly as possible, as surgically as possible, as quickly as possible, leaving the infrastructure of the seceded states intact, and their "states rights" intact as well. Only in that way could the Northern Democrats expect to shake hands warmly with the Southern Democrats when the war was over. Battles, death and destruction, would leave the losers bitter and the party still splintered.
Another reason that may explain Lincoln's mind, is that, as the Radical Senator Chandler had said, McClellan had no real track record. Better that he show he can perform as a army commander first, and get some battle experience under the Army's belt, before its asked to throw itself against the walls of Richmond.
When McClellan walked out of the meeting with Lincoln, he must have known Lincoln would probably reject his plans for army operations in Virginia, for a week later, on January 26, McClellan seems to have shifted his thinking dramatically, writing the new Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, that he was looking to move his army to Kentucky! "Please put the machinery in motion to ascertain exactly how many troops we can move per diem hence to Kentucky, how many days the transit would occupy. Should we change the line I would wish to take about 70,000 infantry, 250 guns, 2500 cavalry, at least 3 bridge trains." Apparently, for a moment at least, McClellan was thinking of marching into Virginia through east Tennessee. (He was probably thinking, for a brief moment, that Lincoln, given his keen interest in the loyal people there, would go for it, but execution of this idea, of course, meant nothing would happen in Northern Virginia to drive Johnston away..)
LincolnPublishes to the Country His War Orders
The next day, January 27, Lincoln ended that idea by publishing what he labeled "President's General War Order No. 1: Ordered that the 22nd day of February 1862, be the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces. That the Army of the Potomac be ready for a movement on that day."
Stanton, rapidly showing McClellan he was aligning with Lincoln, appears to have been behind this order and the one Lincoln followed it with on January 31.
President's Special War Orders, No. 1
Ordered: That all the disposable force of the army of the Potomac, after providing for the safety of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad south of Manassas Junction, all details to be in the discretion of the Commander-in-Chief (Lincoln? Or McClellan?), and the expedition to move before or on the 22d day of February next.
Three days later, having given McClellan permission to submit his objections to the order, Lincoln wrote Mac this:
My Dear Sir, You and I have distinct plans for a movement of the army of the Potomac. If you will give me satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours.
1. Does your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine? (Probably not)
2. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine? (If Lincoln were to fully support McClellan, McClellan's plan might result in the Confederate Government's backing out of Virginia in less time and with less loss than would Lincoln's.)
3. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine? (This is an easy one: by Lincoln's plan all that is achieved is the pushing of Johnston's army behind the Rappahannock; by Mac's, the fall of Richmond knocks Virginia out of the war, at least all of Virginia north of James River. A huge difference to be sure.)
4. In fact would your plan be less valuable in this; that it would break no great line of the enemy's communications, while mine would? ("would break no great line of the enemy's communications?" What was in Lincoln's mind, here, is unfathomable.)
5. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine? (Possibly; at the time Mac did not know the Union gunboats would be in control of the James River by the time he reached the front of Richmond.)
As George McClellan properly put it, on January 31, 1862, in a long epistle he wrote for Lincoln's attention:
BOOKS AVAILABLE TO READ
Major-General Sir. Frederick Maurice, Governments and War (London, William Heineman 1926)
Col. J.F. C. Fuller, The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant (London, John Murry 1929)
Brigadier-General Colin R.Ballard, The Military Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Oxford University Press 1926)
T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and his Generals (Alfred A. Knoff 1952)
Major-General U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs (Little & Co. 1885)
Joan Waugh, U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (University of North Carolina Press 2011)
Curt Anders, Henry Halleck's War (Guild Press 1999)
William Preston Johnston, The Life of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston (State House Press 1997)
Russell F. Weigley, M.C. Meigs: Quartermaster General of the Union Army (Columbia University Press 1959)
Salmon P. Chase, Civil War Diaries (Longmans, Green & Co. 1954)
Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Thomas Yoseloff 1958)
John C. Rivers, The Congressional Globe: Debates and Proceedings (Congressional Globe Office 1862)
William Marvel, Burnside (University of North Carolina Press 1991)
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About the author:
Joe Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg several times.