|By September 1861. Grant obtained promotion to the rank of
brigadier-general and was assigned command of a force stationed at Cairo, Illinois. From this base, Grant operated a fleet of river boats to take possession
of Paducah, Kentucky. A week later he had placed detachments of Union troops at
the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The State government of Kentucky at this time was rebel in sentiment and asserted the position that the State was
in a neutral position between the Union and Confederacy, though there were
5,000 Confederate troops in the state, operating under Polk, who occupied the
towns of Columbus and Hickman on the Mississippi, and other troops were
approaching Bowling Green.
While Grant was occupying Paducah, Sherman was at Louisville, having been summoned there from St. Louis by Robert Anderson, who ostensibly
was in command of the Department of Kentucky.
Albert Sidney Johnston had crossed the Kentucky line and
with a strong force had occupied Bowling Green, sending forward toward Louisville a division under Simon Buckner. In reaction to this, Sherman, with a small
force, advanced from Louisville to Green River. There he found that Buckner had
burned the railroad bridge across that stream and had retired southward.
Fremont, now in command of the Department of the West, with
headquarters at St. Louis, had Lyon at Springfield, with 8,000 troops,
dwindling to 5,000, confronting two columns of Confederate troops, under Ben
McCulloch and Pillow; the aggregate numbering 13,000. On August 10, Lyon had foolishly assumed the initiative and attacked McCulloch's force at Wilson's Creek. Shortly after the battle commenced Lyon was mortally wounded and his
forces fell into disarray and began a retreat across Missouri to Rolla.
In response to this, Fremont issued, on September 1, a
proclamation declaring Missouri under martial law and that the "the
property, real and personal, of persons taking an active part with the rebels
in the field, be confiscated and that their slaves be free." This act
resulted in Fremont receiving a letter from Lincoln.
My Dear Sir: Two points in your
proclamation give me some anxiety:
First, Should you shoot a man,
according to your proclamation, the Confederates would very certainly shoot our
best men in their hands in retaliation.
Second, I think there is great danger
in relation to the confiscation of property and the liberating of slaves. It
will alarm our Southern Union friends and turn them against us; perhaps ruin
our rather fair prospect for Kentucky. Allow me, therefore, to ask that you
modify your proclamation to conform it with the congressional act to confiscate
property approved August 6, 1861.
Fremont refused, writing Lincoln that, if Lincoln wanted it
changed, he would have to publicly order it. On receipt of Fremont's letter, Lincoln issued a public statement rescinding the order as written. Fremont's refusal,
along with his increasingly public quarrel with the powerful Blair family
brought a quick end to his career as commander of the Department of the West.
Frank Blair was chief of the Missouri politicians and expected to gain
considerable financial wealth from profiting in deal-making; selling horses etc
to the Union army. Fremont, despite the fact that he had been the "pet and
protégé" of the Blairs, obstructed Frank Blair's efforts in this regard
and Blair began pressuring Lincoln to dump Fremont.
On September 12, Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, arrived
in St. Louis to investigate the situation. At the same time Fremont's wife, the
daughter of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, took a train to Washington and
presented Lincoln with a letter from her husband. Gaining an audience with Lincoln, Mrs. Fremont told him that if he did not support Fremont in his battle with the
Blairs "he would set up for himself."
As Jesse Fremont tells the story she entered the Blue Room
and approached the President: "His manner was hard and the sound of his
voice when he said `well?' was repelling. Nor did he offer me a seat.
He talked standing and made the impression that I was to be got rid of quickly.
He told me that `the war was for a great national idea, the Union, and that
General Fremont should not have dragged the Negro into it.'"
As Mrs. Fremont was returning to St. Louis, her husband
arrested Francis Blair on a charge of insubordination; in essence, Fremont charged, Blair had acted in a manner designed to bring him into contempt in the
eyes of Lincoln which undermined his authority. At the same time, a 3,500 man Union force at Lexington, Missouri—160 miles from St. Louis—was attacked by a rebel force
under Sterling Price and forced to surrender.
On September 26, Frank Blair, now released from arrest,
filed formal charges against Fremont, which were laid before Lincoln. They
included neglect of duty and "despotic and tyrannical conduct."
By early September, McClellan had in hand approximately
85,000 troops. He continued to form these troops into brigades of four
regiments each; and, as their instruction became perfected, the brigades were
assigned to divisions of three brigades each. In replying to an inquiry of his
intentions, made by Secretary of War Cameron on September 7th, McClellan
replied that he wished his army be reinforced by "all the effective troops
that the West can furnish," repeating his opinion that the Army of the
Potomac should number three hundred thousand men in order to ensure success in
By the end of the month, McClellan had taken possession of
Falls Church, Ball's Crossroads, and Munson's, Upton's, and Taylor's hills,
with the Confederate forces falling back to occupy Fairfax Courthouse, Vienna,
and Burke's Station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.
To the eyes of anyone that could see, the inaction of the
Confederate army at Centreville to move on the offensive against Washington demonstrated the fatal weakness of the Confederacy in its endeavor to make
itself an independent nation. As McClellan was hurrying to organize and train
85,000 men into an efficient army, Jefferson Davis, though he had men, had not
the physical means of bringing them across the Potomac.
On September 7th, writing to Tennessee Governor Ira Harris, Davis said: "A defensive plan will be followed for the present—at least until we know
more of the position of the English government. I have assurances of material
assistance from that quarter, but they request a few months delay to shape the
sentiment of the English people. Seward has exhibited powers during this
struggle which I had not expected and we must look out for him." Soon Davis was dispatched as ambassadors to Britain, Mason and Sidell who the U.S. Navy would
take by force from a British ship on the high seas.
At this time General Lee was in western Virginia, managing
the friction that existed between the political generals, past Virginia
Governor Henry Wise and past U.S. Secretary of war John Floyd. Bringing Wise's
and Floyd's forces together near Sewell Mountain where McClellan's replacement,
William Rosecrans, was entrenched, Lee attempted to mount a two pronged attack
on Rosecrans's position but the effort foundered. In the course of this effort,
President Davis relieved Wise of duty, recalling him to Richmond, and send
Loring with 9,000 to the sector to join with Floyd. But nothing could be done,
because, as Lee wrote to his wife, Mary, "All these drawbacks—the sickness
of the men, the constant cold rains, the mud, no shelter aggravating it, plus
the impassable roads, the exhausted condition of the horses—have paralyzed our
Campsite at Sewell Mountain