By October 1861, McClellan had gone far toward reorganizing
the army into brigades and divisions officered by men of his selection. In the
course of doing this, McClellan ignored General Scott completely, causing the
general-in-chief to tender his resignation to Lincoln which was accepted.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 1861.
S. Cameron, Secretary of War:
more than three years I have been unable, from a hurt, to mount a horse, or to
walk more than a few paces at a time, and that with much pain. Other and new
infirmities -- dropsy and vertigo -- admonish me that the repose of mind and
body, with the appliances of surgery and medicine, are necessary to add a
little more to a life already protracted much beyond the usual span of man. It
is under such circumstances, made doubly painful by the unnatural and unjust
rebellion now raging in the Southern States of our so lately prosperous and
happy Union, that I am compelled to request that my name be placed on the list
of army officers retired from active service. As this request is founded on an
absolute right, granted by a recent act of Congress, I am entirely at liberty
to say it is with regret that I withdraw myself in these momentous times from
the orders of a President who has treated me with much distinguished kindness
and courtesy; whom I know, upon much personal intercourse, to be patriotic,
without sectional partialities or prejudices; to be highly conscientious in the
performance of every duty, and of unrivaled activity and perseverance.
to you, Mr. Secretary, whom I now officially address for the last time, beg to
acknowledge my many obligations for the uniform high considerations I have
received at your hands, and have the honor to remain, Sir, with high respect,
McClellan's First Effort at Crossing the Potomac Is a Fiasco
By the middle of October, the expanding Union force
gathering in front of Alexandria caused Confederate general Joe Johnston to
abandon his outposts close to the Union forts and draw them in to his main body
which occupied Centreville. McClellan, according to his testimony before the
Committee on the Conduct of the War, sent Charles Stone, a colonel in the
Regular Army and a brigadier-general of Volunteers, an order to advance his
force, which then was some distance behind the left bank of the Potomac, to the
shore and show themselves—his object, he said, being merely to "keep a
sharp lookout whether the enemy abandoned Leesburg."
Stone interpreted McClellan's order somewhat differently.
Instead of simply showing troops and making a feint of crossing the river,
Stone decided to use his boats—two flat boats, a second-hand ferry, and several
skiffs—to "try my boats, to see how rapidly they could push troops
over." Stone had a small body of troops occupying Harrison's Island, and he ordered these, under Colonel Devin, to go to the right bank of the river and
move toward Leesburg, to see if the enemy occupied it. In the course of doing
this, Devin found enemy troops of a small number camped near the town. Learning
this, Stone ordered Devin to attack the camp. At the same time, Stone ordered
Colonel (of volunteers) Baker to move the 15th Massachusetts Regiment to
As the day developed, Devin's force, reinforced by several
companies and some cavalry, became engaged with rebel infantry on the bluff. A
messenger came then from Baker asking Stone whether he could move his troops
forward. Stone replied that as he (Baker) was in command of that sector, he was
free to do what he thought best.
As Stone explained it before the Committee on the Conduct of
the War, "The whole story after that is that Colonel Baker chose to bring
on a battle. He brought it on, handled the troops badly, and brought on a
Baker—no doubt excited by the idea of winning glory to
himself—decided to send the entire regiment across the river. Using the boats
taken from civilians along the river, the regiment very slowly crossed the
river. By the time the entire regiment got across, with Baker leading them up
the steep bank as he waved his sword over his head, Nathan Evans's brigade (of
Bull Run fame) attacked the Union position, driving the enemy back down the bank
and into the river, killing Baker in the process. By the time this happened,
the Union troops—now fleeing for their lives—found no boats available at the
river and plunged in and swam to save themselves.
McClellan, in his private letters to his wife, Mary Ellen,
shows us the workings of an exceedingly immature mind. On the eve of the Ball's
Bluff affair, he wrote her thus: "The enemy has fallen back to
Centreville. My object is to force them to evacuate Leesburg."
After the disaster he wrote her this.
How weary I am of all this business!
(He's hardly gotten started) Care after care, blunder after blunder, trick
after trick. I am well nigh tired of the world. . . That affair of Leesburg was
a horrible butchery (54 Union soldiers killed; wait until the poor devil gets
to Richmond and meets the horror that is Lee). Col Baker was in command, and
violated all military rules and precautions. He was outnumbered three to one
and had no means of retreat. During the night, I withdrew everything and everybody
to this side of the river, which, in truth, they should never have left."
During the course of his testimony before the Committee on
the Conduct of the War, in 1862, Stone was examined on the issue of his
fraternizing with the enemy; he had honored several passes presented by ladies
of Loundon County, allowing them to pass freely through his lines. Soon after
this, McClellan took a report received from a "refugee" to Secretary
of War Stanton. The refugee claimed that Confederate officer, Nathan Evans,
proclaimed Stone a great friend of the Confederacy, and using this as the basis
of excuse, Stanton summarily ordered McClellan to arrest Stone. McClellan did
this, and Stone found himself thrown into prison at Fort Lafayette, in New York Harbor. He remained imprisoned for six months. Then he was released, with no
charges pending, and ignored, until, briefly given a brigade to command in the
seize of Petersburg. Stone resigned from the Army before the end of the war.
The People of Western Virginia Vote to Secede
According to Charles Ambler, in his book A History of
West Virginia, "There is no denying the fact that West Virginia is
largely a creation of the Northern Panhandle and of counties along the
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which had supplied the officers and funds for
her public institutions."
The yellow section of the map of West Virginia did, in fact,
give the major portion of votes (70%) in favor of statehood. In many of the
counties in the blue section of the "state" the people were against
secession, induced to adopt this attitude by the Union invasion of their
counties, orchestrated by McClellan and continued by his successor, William Rosecrans.
These counties eventually became occupied by elements of the Union army to keep
them in line.
By the First of October William T. Sherman was at Louisville, in command of two brigades, preparing to move south toward Green River where
Confederate general Albert S. Johnston was organizing a force to advance
northward. At this time, Robert Anderson, who was in command of the Department
of the Cumberland, relinquished command in the midst of a nervous breakdown,
and the department command passed to Sherman by reason of seniority of rank. Sherman immediately wrote the War Department asking to be relieved. Sherman wanted to
remain in command of a brigade, and Carlos Buell, then in California, was
assigned to take his place.
OF OPPOSING FORCES IN KENTUCKY 1861
While he waited, Sherman continued to recruit from the local
population which proved not to be easy: most of the young men were inclined to
the cause of the South, and the old men, with property, wanted to be left
Of the military situation in Kentucky at this time, Sherman wrote after the war:
"I continued to strengthen the
forward garrisons and their routes of supply; all the time expecting that
Sidney Johnson, who was a real general, would unite his force and fall on one
or the other. Had he done so in October, he could have walked into Louisville, and the vital part of the population would have hailed him as a deliverer. It
did seem to me that the Government in Washington, intent on the larger preparations
of Fremont in Missouri and McClellan in Washington, actually ignored us in Kentucky."
In the middle of the month, Simon Cameron, who had been sent
by Lincoln to St. Louis to gauge the situation with Fremont, met with Sherman at Louisville as he returned east. In the conference Sherman pushed his concern
that, while McClellan had 100,000 men available to cover his front of 100 miles
and Fremont had 60,000 to cover a similar length of front, he had only 18,000
to cover a front of 300 miles. Sherman told Cameron that it would require
200,000 men to cover the Kentucky front. Cameron, aghast, said in response,
"But where are they to come from?"
Sherman's remarks to Cameron were subsequently leaked to the
Press which reported that Sherman was "insane," "crazy,"
"mad." Sherman responded to this, he says, "probably with
language of intense feeling."