In the two weeks that passed after Lincoln published his
April 15 proclamation, calling upon the loyal state governors to send him
regiments of militiamen, the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey went to their legislatures and obtained
authority to muster their militiamen into regiments for a term of three months,
and to use state funds to purchase rifles, ammunition, clothing, accruements,
wagons, horses and artillery for the use of Lincoln’s government. (At this time
Lincoln had little money in the treasury to draw upon.)
men mustered into companies in their respective states, and moved to camps
where they were organized into regiments, the governors appointed general
officers to command their state forces. In New York, Governor Morgan made John
A. Dix and Charles Sandford “major-generals of state militia." Governor
Dennison of Ohio gave the same title to George B. McClellan. Governor Curtin of
Pennsylvania did the same with Robert Patterson. Massachusetts Governor
Andrews gave this rank to Benjamin Butler and Nathaniel Banks, and Governor Sprague
of Rhode Island gave it to Ambrose Burnside.
In Washington, President Lincoln, through his agent, Lieutenant
General Winfield Scott, the Regular army’s general-in-chief, made these state
militia general officers “major-generals of volunteers." Scott, with Lincoln’s approval, divided the territory covering the loyal states bordering on the Potomac and Ohio rivers into “departments," and placed these officers in command of them:
McClellan was assigned command of the Department of the Ohio, which eventually
came to include Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and western Virginia. Patterson was
assigned the Department of Washington which included Pennsylvania and Delaware. A few weeks later, Patterson was switched to the “Department of Pennsylvania,"
and John Mansfield, a colonel in the Regular army, took command of the
Department of Washington, now limited to the District of Columbia. Dix was
assigned recruitment duty in New York City. Butler was assigned the Department
of Maryland, including Baltimore, then, replaced by Massachusetts militia
general, Nathaniel Banks, he was moved to Fort Monroe. Charles Sandford was placed
in command of the New York regiments which, by the middle of May, constituted
the largest state force encamped at the Capital and would be the first to
By May 3, having been bombarded by the loyal state governors
to muster more men into service, Lincoln realized that he could abandon all
pretense of acting in conformance to the Constitution. He had restricted his
first call for troops to a three month term of service in order to conform to
the restrictions imposed upon the President by the Militia Act of 1795, which ,
in section 2, specified that, “whenever the laws of the Union shall be opposed
in any state by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by ordinary means,
it shall be lawful for the President to call forth the militia, and the use of
the militia may be continued until the expiration of thirty days after the
commencement of the then next session of Congress."
Lincoln had purposely chosen July 4th as the day
for the special session of Congress to convene, to give himself time to bring
the Army into existence, depending upon unfolding events to convince the
Congress to continue the war he had created. Now, with the response from the
governors so uniformly supportive of his initial action and their clamor rising
for the mustering of more troops, he knew the likelihood slim that the Congress
would repudiate his actions. So, with an eye on the coming secession referendum
in Virginia, he decided to get moving with military offensive actions, which
required volunteers committed to long term enlistments.
Thus, on May 3, he published the following call, based on
nothing at all but the gamble he would not be impeached in July.
Whereas existing exigencies (i.e.,
“necessity") demand immediate measures for the protection of the National
Constitution and the preservation of the Union. . . to which end a military
force (for offensive operations) appears to be indispensably necessary I call
into the service of the United States 42,034 volunteers, to serve for a period
of three years, plus men enough to fill eight new regiments in the Regular
The Governors instantly respond to Lincoln:
Governor Curtin: “We have more than the requisition of
troops called by you, now in the field. The Legislature has authorized the
formation of twenty-five additional regiments as Pennsylvania’s reserve and has
granted the necessary funds to support them."
Governor Olden, of New Jersey: “Four regiments start
Governor Andrews of Massachusetts: ten thousand drilling,
hoping for call."
Governor Fairbanks of Vermont: “Two regiments waiting for
Governor Buckingham of Connecticut: “One regiment ready."
Governor Sprague of Rhode Island: “One regiment and a field
Governor Washburn of Maine: “Four regiments nearly ready."
Governor Dennison of Ohio: “Twenty-two regiments in camp,
under drill; Legislature has approved $3 million."
On May 6, Governor Randall of Wisconsin wrote Lincoln:
“The governors of several of the states
met on Friday last, at Cleveland. We make you these suggestions: We must
control the business of the Mississippi and the Ohio. There is a spirit invoked
by this rebellion among the liberty-loving people of the country that is
driving them to action and if the government will not permit them to act for
it, they will act for themselves. It is better for the government to direct
this current than to let it run wild. There is a conviction of great wrongs
to be redressed. If the government does not act at once there will be a war
among the Border States. Call for three hundred thousand. These states cannot
be satisfied with call after call for raw troops. They would not be soldiers
but marks for the enemy to shoot at. We want authority to put more men in the
Problem of the Three Month Men
response to the governors’ enthusiasm, Lincoln, through Simon Cameron,
Secretary of War, encouraged them to induce the three month volunteers, still
in state camps, to muster, or remuster as the case may be, into United States service for three years. Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania, wired Cameron in
reply: “I have prepared a circular to be sent to the colonels embracing the
suggestion of your dispatch. On May 13, Cameron wired Curtin: “How many
regiments that have been mustered into service for three months are willing to
be remustered for three years?" The next day Curtin answered: “Keim’s division
of six regiments would not go for three years. No regiment as yet mustered in
for three years." Cameron replied to this with, “Ten regiments are assigned to Pennsylvania under second call, for three years service." Curtin responded on May 20:
“Patterson claims that his entire division has been mustered into service as
three month men. An order was issued by me on April 17th, directing
Patterson to march his division at once. Patterson claims that, under this
order, the seven regiments of the division were mustered in."
Upon Lincoln’s first call, the Pennsylvania Legislature was
not in session. Governor Curtin, on his own authority, called for 25,000 men.
Cameron refused to accept all of them, as the number exceeded the quota then
assigned. Curtin then called the Legislature into session and it passed an act
authorizing the organization of fifteen additional regiments into the Pennsylvania
Reserve Corps. These troops as they came into camp were then sworn into the
service of the State and were subject, under the state law, to the call of the
The Problem of
Who Commands Who
Up to the time of Lincoln’s call for three year volunteers,
he allowed all the officers, whatever their rank, to be appointed by the
governors. After the call, he specified that the commissioned officers of the
company and regiment levels were to be appointed by the governors or by the men,
but the general officers only by him. The force of three year volunteers was to
be organized into three divisions, each composed of from three to four
brigades, and each brigade to have four regiments. Each division was to be
commanded by a major-general and each brigade by a brigadier-general. In this
way, Lincoln cut the governors out of the chain of command between himself and
the troops in the field; henceforth, the governors could not give orders to the
generals and the company and regimental officers could take orders only from
the generals. Lincoln now had his hand firmly on the throttle.
The Problem of Choosing
a Strategic Plan of Operations
Lincoln’s purpose, in making his second call, was to use the
42,000 three year volunteers as the core of an army to operate against the
Confederate army assembling at Manassas Junction. Though he knew the military
forces gathering in Virginia intended to act on the defensive, he meant to
attack them as soon as he could assemble an army capable of taking the field
against them—as soon as the people of Virginia ratified the Ordinance of
Secession, that is.
Confederate detachments were then occupying a defensive line,
trying to block Lincoln’s invasion, that would eventually stretch from the Potomac at Vienna, cutting the Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad, south through Fairfax
Courthouse, cutting the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, to the Occoquan River.
But General Scott had a different idea.
On May 3, the day Lincoln published his second call, 74 year
old General Scott wrote to 34 year old George McClellan, disclosing what he was
“It will not be prudent to rely on the
three month men for offensive operations as their term of service will expire.
We must rely greatly on a blockade (Lincoln, at Scott’s behest, had proclaimed
a blockade late in April). I propose a movement down the Mississippi. We will
need twenty gun boats, forty steamers, and sixty thousand men. It is probable
you will be invited to command this army. The great danger to this plan is the impatience
of our Union friends (read Lincoln). They will be unwilling to wait for the
slow instructions, for the rise of the rivers, for the return of the frost." A
few days later, he wrote again to McClellan, to say: “I proposed to establish
an army of regulars, say 80,000, to be divided into two columns, to clear the Mississippi to the Gulf."
Scott has been, for the most part, forgotten by this generation of Americans.
Those who know his name think of him as old, feeble, barely able to move,
which, of course, by 1861, he was. But his writings show that his mind was
still sharp, filled with the knowledge and experience gained from almost fifty
years military service, and which included his organizing and commanding the
little American army (the core of which were regulars) that invaded Mexico, in
1846; marched 600 miles into her interior and, six months later, brought her
government down, forcing a treaty that doubled the size of the territory of the
The Theater of
General Scott understood clearly that conquering the
Southern States by war would not happen quickly; rather than the war ending
with a grand battle like Waterloo, it would end, he knew, in the economic
strangulation of the country—one way or another. The strangulation could happen
two ways—by armies fighting armies across its breadth, or by a military
blockade that sealed the country from the world. By either method it would take
years to conquer the South, but the latter method would be less destructive of
the people and infrastructure of the South, making a durable peace more likely
to take hold quicker. So General Scott, a native born Virginian, thought.
Scott’s strategic vision was focused on taking immediate
control of the navigation of the Mississippi which would cut off Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas from the Confederacy, and would lead to the occupation
of Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans. Meanwhile, the naval blockade would, in
large measure, eventually prevent the Confederacy from receiving substantial
support from the seas. Only after time had allowed a huge army of drilled
regulars to develop, would an advance be made into the depths of the South.
With the wide river of the Ohio making it practically
impossible for the Confederacy to retaliate against Illinois, Indiana, and
Ohio, backed as they were by Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, it’s only
choice would be to direct its military energy toward Pennsylvania where it
would face the combined forces of that State, New York, New Jersey, and New
England. If the Confederacy were to take the offensive against the North, as
far as Scott was concerned it would be battering itself against an impenetrable
wall while it exhausted its supplies.
But though he seemingly listened to Scott initially, Lincoln had, in his mind, a quite different approach. He was not willing to take what
seemed to him an approach that had no certain end at a definite
time and which left the North sitting on its hands—something he could not
afford politically to do. His strategic vision was to use the great
numerical strength in men and material that the North enjoyed, to
crush the South’s resistance to his rule as fast as the men could be
organized into armies and march into the heartland of the Confederacy. In his
mind, the more territory he could seize and hold, the more evidence he
could show the Northern people and the world that his government was winning;
and thus induce the people to endure the war, and the world not to take the
Confederacy’s side. And as long as the North endured and the world did not give
the South military support, Lincoln was certain the rebel states could not
escape the Union’s grasp.
General Strategic Idea: “Cut em to Pieces"
The West Point
Graduates Scramble For Rank
From all over the Union they came: McClellan quit his
position as a railroad president, and seized the chance to command the Ohio
State Militia; Grant, employed as a shopkeeper in Galena, Illinois, coming
under the wing of Illinois Governor Yates, gained command of the 21st
Illinois volunteer regiment and went into camp with it at Springfield; Sherman,
employed as president of a military college in Louisiana, resigned and hurried
to Washington, where his brother, John Sherman, U.S. Senator from Ohio,
introduced him to Lincoln, which netted him a commission as a colonel in the
Regular army and got him a place on General Scott’s headquarters staff; Ambrose
Burnside, employed as a cashier with the Illinois Central Railroad, took
command of the Rhode Island Militia and, by May, was in Washington with two
regiments and an artillery battery. John Fremont, returning from Europe, was in Washington by late May, looking for a slot at the major-general level. Henry
Halleck, practicing law in San Francisco, gained command of the California
State Militia and would eventually become a major-general in the Regular army,
rising by 1862 to the position of Lincoln’s general-in-chief. And Joe Hooker, employed
in California as a poor rancher, set sail for Washington in May with $700 in
there is the special case of forty-three year old Major Irvin McDowell. By the
beginning of May, thinking offensively, Lincoln had set his Secretary of the
Treasury, Salmon Chase, and his Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, to work with
the loyal state governors, to find the money to pay for the cost of bringing
the volunteers into his service, and to get the volunteers to Washington and Cincinnati. In performing their work, both secretaries came in personal contact with
McDowell, who as a member of Scott’s staff was acting as the mustering officer
for the District of Columbia’s militia. As a consequence of his position,
McDowell became responsible for organizing the militia into regiments. As the
loyal state regiments arrived at Washington, they came within his command and Lincoln took notice of him, the two men having been introduced by Chase.
Realizing that he and Scott entertained divergent views of
military strategy, and that Scott would resist his wishes, probably using his
control of the officer corps as a device to neutralize him, Lincoln decided to
make McDowell his boy, by offering him a commission as brigadier-general in the
Lincoln Invades Virginia
If You Can Kill
Virginia, You Can Kill The Confederacy
The New York
As soon as the people of Virginia ratified their State’s
Ordinance of Secession, Lincoln began orchestrating movements of military
forces into Virginia. At Washington, New York State Militia Major General,
Charles Sandford, led a force of New York and Rhode Island Volunteers across
the three bridges linking Washington with Virginia and occupied the city of Arlington and the Lee family plantation on Arlington Heights, making the Lee family
mansion his headquarters.
In the course of this, Lincoln suffered his first personal
loss of the war. Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, of the Eleventh New York Regiment—the
“New York Fire Zouaves"—was shot and killed, when he barged into a private house
in Alexandria and charged up a flight of stairs to rip down a Confederate flag
flying on a pole from the roof. (On the way up the stairs, a man stepped from a
room and shot him dead.) Ellsworth’s corpse was carried to the White House and
placed in the East Room, as Lincoln stood over it, in tears; crying, “My boy!
My boy!" Thus, you reap what you sow.
Pennsylvania State Militia Major General Robert Patterson (also
commissioned, like Sandford, a major-general of volunteers by Lincoln) began
assembling a force of seventeen regiments of Pennsylvania three month
volunteers at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to invade the Shenandoah Valley,
occupy Harper’s Ferry, and move on Martinsburg where the repair shops and train
sheds of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad were located. Though not a West Point graduate, Patterson had been a general officer in the U.S. Army, and had acted
as General Scott’s second-in-command for a short time during the War with Mexico. The same age as Scott, Patterson was assumed to be the right man to carry the war
into the Valley.
Patterson in 1847
Benjamin Butler, who had been replaced by Nathaniel Banks
after occupying Baltimore with troops early in the month, was at Fort Monroe with Massachusetts troops. He would do nothing but hold the fort.
McClellan, commissioned by Lincoln a major-general in the Regular army late in
May, had spent the early part of the month, promoting himself, by writing
personal letters to Lincoln, Chase, Cameron, and Scott, proposing one plan of
operations for his troops after another. First, he proposed that 80,000 men be
assigned to his department for a movement across the Ohio River, to move south
through the valley of the Great Kanawha and toward Richmond. A fanstasy
everyone knew. The next plan he offered, was to move his proposed army into Kentucky and march on Nashville, and then head for Alabama and Georgia. When these plans
reached Lincoln’s desk and he expressed interest, General Scott dismissed them
on the ground that they entailed overland marches that would break down the men,
their horses and wagons. Rather than attempt to subdue the Confederacy, piece
meal, Scott tried to convince Lincoln, it should be enveloped—by establishing a
cordon of posts on the Mississippi down to its mouth, and by blockading the
seaboard with warships. But Lincoln would have none of it, appointing McClellan
the first regular army major general with the expectation that, like McDowell
in the East, Mac would be his boy in the West.
McClellan knew how to flatter: on May 9, when it became
apparent to him that General Scott was not pleased with his end-around communications
with politicians, he sent Scott a long personal letter full of bull: “The first
aim of my life," he wrote, “is to justify the good opinion you have of me, and
to prove that the great soldier of our country can not only command armies
himself but teach others to do so. I do not expect your mantle to fall on my
shoulders, but I hope it will be said I was a worthy disciple of your school." At
the same time, the two-faced jerk was writing Ohio Governor William Dennison:
“The apathy in Washington is very discouraging . . . they are entirely too slow
for such an emergency and I almost regret having entered upon my present duty."
And, a few days later, he wrote this to Dennison: “General Scott is eminently
sensitive, and does not take suggestions kindly from subordinates, especially
when they conflict with his preconceived notions." He was already angling to
undercut Scott and slip into his place.
On May 24, the day following the No vote on secession by twenty-five
of the counties in northwestern Virginia, Lincoln through Scott sent McClellan
the message that he wished him to move into Virginia. Scott wrote McClellan: “We
have information Virginia troops have reached Grafton (a point on the B & O
Railroad). Can you counter it? Act promptly." The next day, from his
headquarters at Cincinnati, McClellan sent orders to several regiments posted
at Parkersburg and Wheeling, to move up the spurs of the B & O Railroad and
drive the rebels away from Grafton.
May 27, 1861
Lieut. Gen. Winfield Scott:
Two bridges burned last night near Farmington, on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Have ordered the First Regiment West
Virginia and one Ohio regiment to move at once by rail from Wheeling on Fairmont, occupying bridges as they go. Two Ohio regiments ordered to occupy Parkersburg and move toward Grafton.
B. McCLELLAN, Major-General
General McClellan was off and running in the Virginia hinterland. Irvin McDowell, on the other hand, was now front and center; having
been promoted by Lincoln to brigadier-general in the Regular army, Lincoln used the promotion to induce McDowell, over General Scott’s objection, to assume
command of the new Department of Virginia, supplanting New York State Militia
General Sandford. McDowell arrived at Lee’s mansion at Arlington Heights on May
29. Immediately he ordered the regiments that were there to be organized into
three brigades and placed them under the newly promoted Regular army colonels
ordered to report to him. Then he wrote to General Scott’s adjutant.
May 29, 1861
I am aware we are not, theoretically
speaking, at war with the State of Virginia, and we are not here, in an enemy’s
country; but since the courts are not functioning, should not cases of
depredations be handled by military commission as similar cases were in Mexico? It is a question of policy I beg to submit to the General-in-Chief. The plea that a
man is a secessionist is set up by the depredators as a justification for their
acts. (precedent for Mr. Yoo)
McDowell, Brigadier-General commanding
Then he wrote a letter to Mrs.
Department of Northeastern Virginia
Arlington, May 30, 1861
Mrs. R.E. Lee:
MADAM: I am here temporarily in camp on
the grounds, preferring this to sleeping in the house. I assure you it has been
and will be my earnest endeavor to have all things so ordered that on your
return you will find things as little disturbed as possible. Everything has
been done as you desired with respect to your servants, and your wishes, as far
as possible have been complied with. I trust, Madam, you will not consider it
an intrusion if I say I have the most sincere sympathy for your distress, and I
shall be always ready to do whatever may alleviate it.
and Staff on the Steps of Mrs. Lee’s Home
The World Sits Back and Waits
In early May, Lord John Russell, British Secretary of State,
announced in the House of Commons that a British naval force had been
dispatched to the coast of the United States, to protect English commercial
interests; and that France and Great Britain had agreed to take the same course
of recognition of the Confederate Government. At the same time, he received
Confederate ambassadors, in the manner in which Secretary of State William
Seward had received them in Washington earlier. Learning of this from Charles
Francis Adams, the United States Ambassador to Britain, Seward wrote
“As to the blockade, you will say that
by our own laws and the law of nations, this government has a clear right to
suppress insurrection. An exclusion of commerce from national ports which have
been seized by insurgents is a proper means to that end and, thus, we expect
the blockade to be respected by Great Britain. If it doesn’t, a war may ensue
between the United States and one, two, or even more European nations. Great Britain has but to wait a few months, and all her present inconveniences will cease
with all our own troubles."
Seward is kidding. According to the law of nations, as it
existed at the time, a blockade such as Lincoln had proclaimed was permissible
only between belligerents, not between a government and what it deemed
to be insurgents. The purpose of a blockage is to isolate and weaken an enemy.
That this may be done effectively, the merchant ships of neutral nations may be
stopped and searched on the high seas, and in case they carry contraband, or
are bound for a blockaded port, they may be seized and brought before a prize
court for condemnation. Similarly, the enemy may, under the law of nations,
resort to the measure of using privateers on the high seas for the same
purpose. Such conduct, under the law of nations, is lawful only in time of war.
As a result of the two American governments’ positions—the one blockading, the
other privateering—Lord Russell counseled the Queen that the British Government
was bound to recognize that they were both entitled to claim the rights, and be
responsible for the obligations, of belligerents. (Something our government
still doesn’t accept; it calls something war but ignores the obligations.)
In consequence, on May 13, the Queen of England proclaimed
that she recognized a state of war existed between Lincoln’s government
and Davis’s, and that therefore both were entitled to belligerent rights.
Within a week France, Spain, and the Netherlands followed Britain’s lead.
As Lord Russell told Adams, the reality was that eight
million citizens of the Confederacy were in open revolt against Lincoln’s government. “It is not our practice," Russell said, “to treat eight million free
men as pirates and to hang their sailors if they attempt to stop our merchant
ships. It seems to me that you have expected us to discourage the South. How
this is to be done, except by waging war against it, I am at a loss to
William Seward answered this with an Alice-in-Wonderland
concoction: “We shall never admit that Great Britain and France have recognized the insurgents as a belligerent party. You say you have declared it.
We reply, `but not to us.’ You rejoin: `The public declaration of the Queen
concludes the fact.’ We, nevertheless, reply: ‘It must be not her declaration,
but the fact, that concludes the fact.’"
On May 21, Lord Russell told the Confederate ambassadors
that Great Britain would recognize the Confederate Government as legitimate,
as opposed to belligerent, upon the first decided Confederate
success. Napoleon III told the ambassadors when they reached Paris that France would follow Britain’s lead. The threat, which Adams reported, did not dissuade Lincoln from rushing his people into the abyss.
The People Waive Their Civil Liberties
The New York
May 29, 1861
“It is the fuction
of judges to apply the law,
morality or preach religion"