In his book, Governments and War, published in 1926, British
Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice made the point that,
"Modern war demands that a
partnership exist between the statesman and his military commander. The statesman
must be the senior partner, and if the partnership is to be effective its
members must have confidence each in the other, must be sufficiently acquainted
with the whole business of war to understand the needs and difficulties of
each, and the senior partner must know when and how to leave the junior to his
tasks, how to direct without interference."
of dollars and thousands of lives were lost in the thirteen months Lincoln and
McClellan bungled through their partnership, each failing to recognize the
prerogatives and responsibilities of the other.
The so-called partnership between the two men began when
Lincoln appointed McClellan, on November 1, 1861, to step into the shoes of
General Scott, ostensibly to act in the capacity of the general commanding the
armies of the United States which were forming in three theaters: the first,
the territory between the Alleghenies and the Atlantic; the second, between the
Alleghenies and the Cumberland River in Kentucky; and the third, between Kansas
and the Cumberland.
When Lincoln did this, he knew without a doubt what
McClellan's political leanings were and what his attitude toward taking
offensive action against the Confederate army in Virginia.
McClellan's first statement of his view of things came to Lincoln shortly after McClellan reached Washington, in late July 1861. "Pursuing a
rigidly protective policy as to private property," McClellan wrote Lincoln, "a strong movement should be made on the Mississippi that will force the
rebels out of Missouri and simultaneously with this a movement should be made
into Tennessee for the purpose of seizing the railroad leading from Memphis to the east." As for the "main army of operations" there would be
required, McClellan wrote, 250 regiments of 225,000 men, 100 batteries (600
guns), and 28 cavalry regiments of 25,000 troopers. The main army should
operate on a line that would allow it to use water transportation from point to
point, thus requiring a large naval force to protect its movements. McClellan
assured Lincoln that he would use this army to "occupy Richmond, drive the
enemy out of Virginia, and move into the heart of the Confederacy, capturing Charleston, Savannah, Montgomery, Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans."
As to the issue of unity of command, McClellan wrote Lincoln just before assuming Scott's place that "the entire military should be
grasped as a whole, and not in detached parts. One plan should be agreed upon,
one will should direct and carry out those plans." Correct thinking in the
abstract, but the one dominant will Mac meant to be his.
Energized by his new station, McClellan wrote his wife on
November 3rd: "I saw the old man (Scott) off in the dark and pouring rain.
He looked a feeble old man scarce able to walk, with hardly any one there to
see him leave. Should I ever become ambitious remind me of that spectacle. At
last I am the major general commanding the Army."
In assuming the role of Lincoln's general-in-chief,
McClellan had made himself perfectly clear as to his view of the strict limit Lincoln's politics were to play in the execution of the three-pronged military campaign he
envisioned. On November 7th, writing to Don Carlos Buell, who was being substituted
in Sherman's place as commander of the Department of Ohio, McClellan said,
We shall most readily suppress this
rebellion and restore the authority of the government by religiously respecting
the constitutional rights of all. The inhabitants of Kentucky may rely upon it
that their domestic institutions will in no manner be interfered with."
To his friend Barlow, McClellan wrote on November 8th:
"I will first be sure that I have an army strong enough and well enough
instructed to fight with reasonable chances of success. Of one thing you can
rest assuredwhen the blow is struck it will be heavy, rapid, and decisive.
Help me dodge the niggerwe want nothing to do with him. I am fighting to
preserve the integrity of the Union and the power of the Government and nothing
else. To gain that end we cannot afford to raise up the negro question."
Point Royal Sound 1861
And yet, with sympathy in his heart, he wrote to his wife,
Mary Ellen, on November 14th, after the Navy had successfully penetrated Port
Royal Sound, in South Carolina, and Union troops occupied Beaufort: "The
negroes came flocking down to the river with their bundles in their hands ready
to take passage! There is something inexpressibly mournful to me in those poor
helpless ignorant beings, poor serfs with their little bundles, ready to launch
their boats on the wide ocean of life they know so little of."
"Oh, praise an' tanks! De Lord he come
To set de people free;
An' massa tink it day ob doom,
An' we ob jubilee. .
(Whittier's At Port Royal 1861)
From these communications, both public and private, McClellan's
politics are clear. He was a Democrat, not a Republican. In his letter to Mary
Ellen, he continued: "When I think of some of the features of slavery I
cannot help shuttering. Just think for a moment that at the will of some brutal
master you and I might be separated forever! It is horrible, and when the day
of adjustment comes I will, if successful, throw my sword into the scale to
force an improvement in the condition of those poor blacks. I will never be an
abolitionist, but I do think that some of the rights of humanity ought to be
secured to the negroesthere should be no power to separate families and the
right of marriage ought to be secured to them. I will not fight though for the
Lincoln, of course, was willing, it is plain to see, to
tolerate Democrats in positions of military command, in 1861, because the
Republicans had not yet consolidated their control of the Federal Government
and the Government had not yet consolidated its control of Maryland, Missouri,
and, most importantly, Kentucky. But as soon as the Government would get its
grip firmly fixed around Kentucky's throat, Lincoln would try hard to dump the
Democrats for Republicans. The effort would give Virginia and the Confederacy a
breath of life that would extend the war in the east two years.
For his part, McClellan was willing, barely, to tolerate Lincoln. Writing to Mary Ellen toward the end of November, he said this: "I went to
the White House where I found the original gorilla, about as intelligent
as ever. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs now! Then, later, I
went to Seward's, where I found the gorilla again and was of course much
edified by his anecdotesever unworthy of one holding his high position. I
suppose our country has richly merited some great punishment, else we should
not now have such a wretched trifler at the head of affairs."
According to his own story Mac picked up the word
from Edwin Stanton. "Stanton did his best to ingratiate himself with
me," McClellan wrote in his posthumously published autobiography. "Stanton never spoke of Lincoln in any other way than as the `original gorilla,' and often
said that DuChaillu was a fool to wander all the way to Africa in search of
what he could so easily have found at Springfield, Illinois. Nothing could be
more bitter than his words and manner always were when speaking of the
administration and the Republican party. His purpose was to climb upon my
shoulders and then throw me down." Stanton certainly did do his best to do
that as he came to embrace Lincoln's politics.
The Department of Missouri
late July, as McClellan was arriving at Washington, Lincoln put John Fremont, The
Pathfinder and 1856 Republican candidate for president, in command of what
was then called the Department of the West. Fremont arrived in St. Louis in August, 1861, and promptly set about antagonizing the very powerful political
(Democrat) Blair family, going so far as to arrest Frank Blair, the leading
Union organizer in the state. This resulted in the emergence of a large group
of political enemies that besieged Lincoln to dump him.
As this drama played itself out, Fremont went about the
business of organizing an army of 16,000 men and getting it into the field to
operate against a similar-sized rebel force, commanded by Sterling Price and
the famous Texan, Ben McCulloch, that controlled the western and southern parts
of the state. Fremont organized his force into five divisions and ordered them
to concentrate at Springfield, which the enemy was holding in force. Lincoln, already thinking himself a competent military strategist, which he was not, wrote
to Fremont to say, "You are not likely to overtake Price and are in danger
of making too long a line from your own base of supply and reinforcement."
Ironically, the same reason McClellan gave for insisting on not moving
overland to Richmond in March 1862. "I feel sure," Lincoln wrote to Fremont, that an attempt to reach Memphis (Fremont's stated eventual goal) by (an overland
route) will be exhaustive beyond endurance, and will end with the loss of the
whole force engaged in it."
Fremont Moves on Price
Fremont would probably have survived in command of the
department, despite his abuse of the Blairs, but for the fact he engaged in
conduct which confounded Lincoln's immediate plans. First, on August 30, Fremont issued a proclamation that announced he was seizing into his hands the
administration of the state government, placing the state under marital law,
and emancipating the slaves of any person who he deemed to have acted
"disloyally to the Union." Lincoln responded to this, by writing Fremont asking politely that he modify his edict to conform it to the recently enacted
congressional act for the confiscation of property which had been signed into
law on August 6. The act provided for due process, including jury trial,
instead of arbitrary confiscation by military authority. Fremont slapped Lincoln in the face, by responding with the demand that Lincoln publicly order him to make
the modification. This Lincoln quickly did.
just as McClellan was stepping up to general-in-chief, Lincoln fired Fremont, replacing him with a lawyer and businessman, a West Point graduate and retired
regular army officer, Henry Halleck. Halleck received this news as he arrived
in Washington from California. By November 13, Halleck was in St. Louis, in
charge of the renamed Department of Missouri which included Illinois, Arkansas and the western half of Kentucky.
Upon arrival, Halleck wrote McClellan, "Affairs here in
complete chaos. Troops unpaid, without clothing or arms."
As Halleck was arriving at St. Louis, U.S. Grant, commanding
3,000 troops at Cairo, moved down the Mississippi, at Fremont's direction, and
attacked Belmont, a village on the west bank of the river opposite Columbus.
Then he returned to Cairo to await orders from Halleck. When they came they
extended his command to include the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, the gateway to Nashville.
The Department of Ohio
William T. Sherman, having asked McClellan to relieve him
from command of the department, was ordered to join Halleck in St. Louis where, acting as Halleck's advance man, he went to Sedalia and began jockeying
with Price and McCulloch for position. Buell, taking Sherman's place, arrived
in Louisville shortly thereafter. Buell made a movement southward, occupying Lebanon and then waited for instructions.
That Lincoln was acting the part Frederick Maurice envisoned
for the senior partner in the relationship with his new general-in-chief, is
clear from the letter he wrote in reply to a letter he received from ex-Attorney
General Joseph Holt on November 2.
"Yours of the 2nd never reached me
till yesterday, and Gen. McClellan has already so nearly completed his plans
for the Departments of the West, and the Cumberland, that I could scarcely ask
him to rearrange them. Halleck goes to St. Louis, and Buell goes to Louisville. Sherman's wishes are being consulted and I hope he will be placed
satisfactorily to himself."
As for Sherman, Lincoln wrote soon after this to McClellan,
"If Gen. McClellan thinks it proper to make Buell a major-general,
enabling Sherman to return to Kentucky, it would rather please me." Sherman's many friends wanted him to lead troops in the field in Kentucky.
Lincoln Dances a Quick Step With The Great Powers
Queen Victoria's proclamation recognizing the Confederacy
and the Union as belligerents established Britain as a neutral in the conflict,
under the Law of Nations. This meant that, under
the Treaty of Paris to which
neither the Union or the Confederacy were signatories, British ships were
entitled to traverse the seas without molestation from the warring parties;
unless her ships were carrying contraband of war in which event the ship could
be stopped on the high seas, boarded and the offending objects removed. The
ship itself, or its passengers, could not be seized.
On November 8th, U.S. Navy Captain Wilkes stopped and
boarded the British merchant ship, Trent, as it passed through the
Bahama Channel carrying Confederate emissaries, Slidell and Mason, to Europe. Wilkes removed these two men, and two others, and carried them to Boston where they
were thrown in prison. Slidell had been sent by President Davis to the Court of
the Tuileries as an envoy extraordinary and similarly Mason was to present
himself to the Court of St. James.
On November 30th, Lord John Russell, the British Secretary
of Foreign Affairs, instructed the British ambassador to the United States, Lord Lyons, to demand that the United States release the envoys and, if the
demand was not immediately met, to remove the entire British legation, with all
its records, to London forthwith. At the same time, orders were issued, sending
ten thousand troops across the Atlantic and doubling the size of the British
Navy on station off the Union's eastern seaboard. Lincoln's government suddenly
was hanging on the precipice of war with England and France.