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The Papers of George McClellan

 

           Headquarters Army of the Potomac

           June 1, 1862―Field of Battle

Edwin Stanton

Edward StantonWe have had a desperate battle in which the corps of Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes have been engaged against greatly superior numbers. Casey's division (of Keyes's corps) gave way unaccountably and discreditably. But Heintzelman (a division) and Kearny (a brigade) brought up their troops, which checked the enemy. At the same time Sumner succeeded by great exertions in bringing across Sedgwick's and Richardson's divisions, who drove the enemy back at the point of the bayonet, covering the ground with his dead. Our loss is heavy, but that of the enemy must be enormous.

G.B. McClellan, Maj.Gen.

 

Note: Here you see McClellan is prone to a florid style of writing, which does not express the reality, and in using the dramatic "Field of Battle" he suggests he was personally in the thick of it which, of course, he was not.

 

           Headquarters Army of the Potomac

June 2, 1862 12:30 p.m. New Bridge

Edwin Stanton

 

Our left is now within four miles of Richmond. I only wait for the river to fall to cross the rest of the force and make a general attack. Should I find them holding firm in a very strong position I may wait for what troops I can bring up from Fort Monroe.

G.B. McClellan, Maj.Gen.

 

Note: McClellan's writing style must have contributed significantly to Lincoln's distaste for the man. He starts out with the declarative sentence, stating emphatically that as soon as the Chickahominy falls he will cross "the rest of the force," which means Sumner's, Franklin's, and Porter's corps, and immediately "make a general attack." But, then, he follows this with a sentence that qualifies his readiness to attack. Despite the fact that the Chickahominy bottomland was flooded by rain storms that almost swept away several of the bridges he had just built, this was the moment that a full-throated general attack should have been made, including in it the advance across the river of Franklin's corps, in not also Porter's. At this moment there was no material threat in existence against his right and rear and the enemy were disorganized by the battle at Seven Pines the day before. An attack now would keep the enemy off balance and might well gain for McClellan the key point on the map—Old Tavern. Instead, McClellan published a "proclamation" to his troops that "The final and decisive battle is at hand." Just talk.

Mary Ellen      June 2, 1862 6:30 p.m.

Battle desperate and loss heavy but success complete. One more and we will have Richmond and I shall be there this week. It is possible that yesterday's victory will open Richmond to us without further fighting.

G.B. McClellan

 

Note: One must wonder whether McClellan has his feet planted on earth.

 

Mary Ellen      June 2, 1862 8:00 p.m. New Bridge

I was quite sick on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday rose from my bed and went to the field of battle, remained on horseback most of the time until Sunday morning. I came back perfectly worn out and exhausted. Laid down but could not sleep much.

 

The Chickahominy is now falling and I hope we can complete the bridges tomorrow. I can do nothing more until that is accomplished. The weather now seems settled and I hope the river will be low enough tomorrow to enable me to cross. I expect to fight another battle, but trust it will be the decisive one. I feel sure of success. But I am tired of the sickening sight of the battlefield, with its mangled corpses and poor suffering wounded. Victory has no charms for me when purchased at such a cost. I shall be only too glad when all is over and I can return where I best love to be. I think the Richmond question will be settled this week.

George

 

Note: Nowhere in Grant's letters will you find any such expression of anguish as McClellan utters to his wife here. Victory in battle must always be purchased with the blood of a general's soldiers and for most generals victory certainly has its charm. Grant's casualties at Shiloh approached 20,000; McClellan's at Seven Pines, about 5,000.

McClellan said nothing about the necessity to build more bridges in his letter to Stanton, and why he thinks he will have possession of Richmond before the week is out escapes intelligence completely. He is not thinking straight here.

 

June 3, 1862 6:00 p.m. New Bridge

Edwin Stanton

Hard at work upon the bridges. I expect to be up six regiments from Fort Monroe. The next leap will be the last one.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

Note: Now he mentions the bridges. The "next leap" will merely get his right wing across the river as he fights the enemy for possession of Old Tavern. Once he has Old Tavern, the long process of laying siege to Richmond will begin in earnest―the big Parrott rifled guns being brought up into range of Richmond, the troops digging trenches under cover of the guns, slowly reducing the open space that must be charged over to a manageable degree.

 

June 4, 1862 New Bridge

Abraham Lincoln

Terrible rain storm during the night and morning. Chickahominy flooded, bridges in bad condition. I have taken every possible step to insure the security of the corps (Franklin's and Porter's) on the right bank, but I cannot reinforce them from here until my bridges are all safe as my force is too small to insure [the security of] my right and rear should the enemy attack in that direction, as they may probably attempt. I have to be very cautious now.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen. Commanding

 

Note: This letter gives Lincoln an excuse why that "final" battle is not happening, and, in the complex second sentence, it introduces the main argument McClellan will use to justify why the final battle never happens. His force is not "too small to insure the security of [his] right and rear;" but it is too small to simultaneously insure the security of his right and rear and launch the final battle against the Richmond defenses. Still, if McClellan acts immediately—right now, when there is no immediate threat to his rear―he stands an excellent change of gaining possession of Old Tavern. But he hesitates, waiting for more troops to come up, waiting for the last bridge to get built, waiting for the river to recede.

 

June 5, 1862 New Bridge

Abraham Lincoln

I again invite your attention to the great importance of occupying Chattanooga and Dalton by our western forces. The evacuation of Corinth would appear to render this very easy—the importance of this move cannot be exaggerated.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen. Commanding

 

Note: Occupying Chattanooga and Dalton would render the last remaining key railroad―The Georgia Central—out of action and with it would go the last means of direct railroad communication between East and West. But that McClellan would state in writing that Halleck's capture of Corinth made this "very easy" suggests serious immaturity, as McClellan had no possible knowledge of the condition of the railroad that necessarily had to function as the means of supplying the army marching to capture Chattanooga.

 

 

 

June 6, 1862 10:00 p.m. New Bridge

Mary Ellen

I have drawn nine regiments from Fort Monroe. I am promised McCall's division in a very few days. I will wait for them, as it would make the result certain and less bloody. I can't afford to have any more men killed than can be avoided.

George

 

Note: At this time Lincoln has finally released to McClellan the full compliment of men that McClellan had originally been given, just before he began the movement from Washington down the Potomac to Fort Monroe. Lincoln, after replacing the commander at Fort Monroe, has given McClellan authority to use the garrison there and he is now released McCall's division of McDowell's corps to go by water to join McClellan's army. These forces, added to Franklin's division, add up to the amount of men in McDowell's corps. Still, Lincoln has given McClellan about 25,000 less men than came under Halleck's command when he arrived at Shiloh on April 17 and moved on Corinth. Clearly, it should have been understood by Lincoln that McClellan, at Richmond, was confronted with substantially more enemy numbers than was Halleck at Corinth.

Despite the fact McDowell lost to McClellan two divisions―Franklin's, and now McCall's—the strength of his corps remained stable as new recruits were organized at Washington and sent to fill its ranks. At this time, McDowell has Shields's division, King's division, and soon Ricketts's; an aggregate force of 35,000. This additional force should be with McClellan by now.

 

June 7, 1862

Edwin Stanton

Your dispatch astonishes me. The White House of the rebel Gen. Lee is a small frame building of six rooms worth probably fifteen hundred dollars and the medical director states that it would not accommodate more than 30 patients. He has not conceived it necessary to use the house as a hospital. As to the story about thirsty wounded suffering soldiers having to buy a glass of water [is silly]. No one has ever had cause to suffer for water. I have given special directions to protect the property of the White House because it was once the property of Gen. Washington.

G.B. McClellan, Maj.Gen

 

Note: Many of the Radical Republicans in Congress, as members do to this day, thought it appropriate to travel to the war zone to "inspect" the situation, confer with constituents, and otherwise make political hay. In the course of this, they became angry that McClellan was protecting the private property of rebels from looting and wanton destruction. They came back to the floor of Congress and began screaming about it. When the Union army abandoned the Landing in August, Mrs. Lee's cottage was burned to the ground.

 

Mrs. Lee's Cottage, once owned by Martha Dandridge Washington

 

June 7, 1862

Edwin Stanton

I shall be in perfect readiness to move forward to take Richmond the moment that McCall's division reaches here and the ground will permit of the passage of artillery.

G.B. McClellan

 

June 9, 1862 New Bridge

Mary Ellen

I had a telegram from your friend McDowell last evening stating that he was ordered down here with his command and assuring me that he received the order with great satisfaction. I have not replied to it, nor shall I. The animal probably sees that the tide is changing and that I am not entirely without friends in the world.

George

 

Note: McClellan believed that McDowell had instigated Lincoln's decision to hold his corps back from McClellan, in April. Though Lincoln was again on the verge of releasing McDowell to go to Richmond, Shields's division was in no condition to march, having been exhausted in Lincoln's wild goose chase of Stonewall Jackson.

 

June 10, 1862

Edwin Stanton

I am completely checked by the weather. In view of the delay this necessarily causes I suggest that you detach a large force from Halleck's army to strengthen mine. I will attack with whatever force I have.

G.B. McClellan, Maj.Gen.

 

Note: Lincoln through Stanton inquired of Halleck about this idea, but quickly gave it up. General Lee is now in command of the Confederate army and McClellan better hurry getting to that "final" battle.

Lincoln at this time has badly bungled the direction of operations of the Union forces in the East. His effort to direct the movements of three columns moving in the Shenandoah Valley to suppress Jackson's force has ended in a fiasco. Recognizing his holding the reins directly in his hands has got the Union war effort nowhere he now gives Halleck command over Buell's army by extending his department to include East Tennessee and he orders John Pope to come east and take command of the three columns, organizing them into one army, to be briefly known as the Army of Virginia.

The important point to keep in mind, here, is that Lincoln did not, at the same time he gave Halleck direct command of all forces in the West, give McClellan direct command of all forces in the East. Was this the ultimate cause of McClellan's failure at Richmond? Who can say? Had Lincoln given McClellan direct command of all forces in the East, McClellan would have had just enough time to get the 35,000 men of McDowell's corps to White House Landing before General Lee had time to get his forces in position to attack McClellan's rear. Lincoln did not give McClellan control precisely because he did not want McDowell's corps to leave the Rappahannock.

 

June 15, 1862

Edwin Stanton

Still raining, roads no good for artillery. It is necessary to have several dry days so that the soil will be firm enough for artillery and horses. We shall very soon be ready to strike the final blow.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

Note: McCall's division arrived at the front on June 11. It has now been about fifteen days since McClellan first said the final blow was at hand.

 

June 15, 1862

Mary Ellen

The chances now are that I will make the first advance on Tuesday, June 17. By that time I think the ground will be fit for artillery and our bridges will be completed. I think the rebels will make a desperate fight, but I feel sure that we will gain our point. Look at the map and find Old Tavern on the road from New Bridge to Richmond. It is where the battle will be fought. If we gain that point the game is up for Secesh. I will then have them in the hollow of my hand. I will make the battle mainly an artillery contest. I will bring to bear 200 guns. As soon as I gain Old Tavern, I will push them behind their works and then I will bring up my heavy guns (Those 30 pounder Parrotts) and shell the city and carry it by assault. I think I can use the artillery to make the loss of life on our side small.

George

 

Note: Again we see George's emotional aversion to body bags; he is pretending in his mind that he can gain possession of Old Tavern antiseptically. What he must do, and what he knows he must do, is bring Franklin's and Porter's corps, in columns, across the bridges between New Bridge and Mechanicsville, and storm the enemy fortifications controlling possession of Old Tavern; and he must do this quickly before a real threat develops against his rear.

 

McClellan's "big" guns (Range: four miles)

 

June 18, 1862

Abraham Lincoln

Our army is over the Chickahominy except the very considerable forces necessary to protect our flanks and communications. Any advance by us involves a battle more or less decisive. After tomorrow we shall fight the rebel army as soon as Providence will permit.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen. Commanding

 

Note: This must have been very irritating to Lincoln when received. He had written McClellan that he had reports 15,000 rebel soldiers were sent from Richmond to reinforce Stonewall Jackson in the Valley, and quite intelligently suggested it was the perfect moment to attack Richmond. And it was. General Lee had indeed sent off a division to join with Stonewall who was now on the march, via the Virginia Central Railroad, for Ashland and Hanover Junction, on the left bank of the Chickahominy and several miles north of Beaver Dam Creek.

 

June 20, 1862

Abraham Lincoln

I have no doubt that Jackson has been reinforced from here. By tomorrow night the defensive works covering our position on the right side of the river should be completed. I am forced to this by my inferiority in numbers so that I may bring the greatest possible numbers into action and secure the Army against the consequences of unforeseen disaster.

G.B. McClellan, Maj.Gen. Commanding

 

Note: By this time McClellan knows that Jackson is approaching Richmond. He has had Porter send a force forward in Jackson's direction and obstruct the roads by felling trees and destroying the bridges. What basis McClellan has for the claim his army is inferior to Lee's in numbers he does not offer. Any general any time wants to be able to bring the greatest possible number of his force into action. The implication is that by defensive works a general can increase his punching power, and, of course, as General Lee knows, this is true. (A boxer uses his left to parry, his right to effect knock out blows.)

 

June 22, 1862

Mary Ellen

I learn today that Honest Abe has again fallen into the hands of my enemies and is no longer a cordial friend of mine! I am as anxious as any can be to finish this war, yet when I see such insane folly behind me I feel I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost.

 

I got up some heavy guns today and hope to give secesh a preliminary pounding tomorrow and make one good step next day. The rascals are very strong and outnumber me considerably. They are well entrenched and have all the advantages of position. So I must be prudent.

George

 

Note: In the first paragraph, McClellan expresses a state of mind quite different from that which Grant obviously held in the days immediately before Shiloh. Grant allowed five divisions of essentially untested soldiers to camp, without fortifications of any kind, on the west bank of the Tennessee, knowing an enemy army of about equal strength was lurking in his front. Grant wanted the enemy to attack and wasted no prayers on his soul for the body bags this would produce. In the second paragraph, gone is the idea of a "final" battle, a "fatal" blow and being in Richmond in a week.

 

June 23, 1862

S.L. Barlow (Mac's good friend)

We are making progress here. But I dare not risk this Army on which I feel the fate of the nation depends. I will succeed, but for the sake of the cause must make a sure thing of it.

Sincerely, your friend Geo. B. McClellan

 

Note: Here, McClellan's language discloses that he is now planning to abandon his line of communication with the White House Landing and retreat to the James River.

 

June 23, 1862

Mary Ellen

Every poor fellow that is killed or wounded almost haunts me! My only consolation is that I have honestly done my best to save as many lives as possible.

 

I have had a very anxious day, the movements of the enemy being mysterious. I think tomorrow will bring forward somethingwhat I do not know. I expect to take a decisive step in advance day after tomorrow and if I succeed will gain a couple of miles toward Richmond. It now looks to me as if the operations would resolve themselves into a series of partial attacks rather than a general battle.

George

 

Note: We see, it is impossible not to, that George does not have the stomach to do what must be done. He is telling his wife, here, what justifies in his mind what he is about to do—retreat to the James rather than fight for his base. General Lee is now massing his forces above Beaver Dam Creek and Jackson's marching column is closing.

 

June 24, 1862

Commodore John Rodgers

U.S. Steamer Galena in James River

In a few days I hope to gain such a position as to enable me to place a force above Drewry's Bluff, so that we can remove the obstructions in James River and place you in communication with us.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

Note: McClellan is revealing that he plans on moving his army to James River.

 

June 24, 1862

Samuel Heintzelman

Tomorrow night I hope to gain possession of Garnett's field and by another day Old Tavern. It will be chiefly an artillery and engineering affair. Keep your command fresh, ready for another battle.

G.B. McClellan

 

June 24, 1862

Edwin Stanton

A very peculiar case of desertion. The party states that he left Jackson, Whiting, and Ewell, 15 brigades at Gordonsville on the 21st. They were moving to attack my rear on the 28th.

G.B. McClellan

 

June 25, 1862

Edwin Stanton

Several contrabands just in give information confirming that Jackson's advance is at Hanover Courthouse. I incline to think that Jackson will attack my flank and rear. This Army will do all in the power of men to hold their position and repulse any attack.

 

June 25, 1862 10:00 p.m.

           Porter's Headquarters

Randolph Marcy (Chief of Staff)

Urge Sumner and Heintzelman to cut as much timber as possible in front of their positions. Be sure to have plenty of ammunition for the 8-inch howitzers. Also the Napoleons for the redoubts. If an attack is made it must be awaited in the entrenchments. Strongly impress on the generals that I wish to fight behind the lines if attacked in force.

G.B. McClellan

 

June 25, 1862

Edwin Stanton

Jackson will soon attack our right and rear.

G.B. McClellan

 

June 25, 1862 10:45 p.m.

Quartermaster Van Vliet

Tell the Chief of Ordnance to arrange to have a good supply of ammunition afloat on James River with the provisions and forage.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen. Commanding

 

June 26, 1862

Edwin Stanton

Our pickets are being driven in on the left bank. Probably Jackson's advance. If this is true you may not hear from me for some days as my communications will probably be cut off. I shall resort to desperate measures and will do my best to outwit the enemy.

G.B. McClellan

 

June 26, 1862

Mary Ellen

I am rather tired out. I think that Jackson is enroute to take us in rear. You probably will not hear from me for several days.

George

 

June 26, 1862

Mary Ellen

The enemy are making a great mistake. I believe that the enemy is falling into a trap. I shall allow the enemy to cut off our communications in order to ensure success.

George

 

Note: It is impossible to fathom what possible "trap" the enemy was falling into by attacking Mac's rear, since Mac tells us he "shall allow" them to cut off his communications. Somehow his choice in doing this will ensure "success." Success in retreating to James River is the only possible outcome that Mac could have been thinking about.

 

June 26, 1862 7:40 p.m.

Beaver Dam Creek

Edwin Stanton

A very heavy engagement in progress just in front of me. You may rely upon this Army doing all that men can do. I still keep communication with White House but it may be cut any moment and I cannot prevent it.

G.B. McClellan

 

Note: Well here we are. Communication with White House may be cut at any moment and Mac cannot prevent it? Mac might have ordered Sumner, Heintzelman, Franklin, and Keyes―all of whom are now on the Richmond side of the river—to leave the lesser percentage of their forces manning the entrenchments, supported by their artillery, and march the larger percentage across the bridges and extend Porter's line to cover the ground between his right flank and the road leading from Hanover Courthouse to Old Church, thereby blocking the probable advance of Jackson's column of three divisions in the direction of the York River Railroad. In other words, Mac might have fought for his communications and to hell with it. Had he done this, it is very doubtful General Lee would have been able in these first days of fighting, to reach the railroad.

Still, in Mac's mind this fact is beside the point. Though he might be able to hold the railroad that is all he would be able to do. From now on, unless McDowell's 35,000 men suddenly appear at White House Landing, Mac would be locked in a struggle with General Lee on the east side of the Chickahominy, with no chance of simultaneously taking the offensive on the west side. What would Grant have done in this situation? What did Grant do in 1864 when he reached the York River Railroad and found Lee in his front?

Query: Assuming, on June 26, Lincoln had ordered McDowell to move immediately to White House Landing, how many days would it have taken for the entire corps to be concentrated there? Five days at a minimum? Once the divisions arrived, they could be moved forward toward Old Church to join hands to McClellan's forces presumably still fighting Lee's north of the railroad. At the same time, some portion of Halleck's force could be detached and sent by train to Washington, to take McDowell's place as a blocking force. This would take five to ten days to accomplish. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

June 26, 1862 8:00 p.m.

Beaver Dam Creek

Edwin Stanton

Dispatch as to reinforcements just read. I am rejoiced that the troops in front of Washington are to be placed under one command. Keep at that and all will be well. I will answer for it that this Army will do all that the Country expects of it.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

June 26, 1862 8:15 p.m.

Mary Ellen

We have again whipped secesh badly. McCall and Morell are the heroes of the day. Stonewall Jackson is the victim this time.

George

 

June 26, 1862 9:00 p.m.

Randolph Marcy (Chief of Staff)

We have completely gained the day.

Geo. B. McClellan

 

June 26, 1862 9:00 p.m.

Edwin Stanton

I have nearly everything in the way of impediments on the west side of the Chickahominy and hope to be ready for anything tomorrow. Please see that Goldsborough complies with my requests. Victory today complete and against great odds. I almost begin to think we are invincible.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

Note: In his Memoirs, published after his death, McClellan is assumed to have written this text: "The dissipation of all hope of cooperation by land of McDowell's forces, deemed to be occupied in the defense of Washington, their inability to hold Jackson, created a danger to my right and to the long line of supplies from White House to the Chickahominy and forced an immediate change of base across the Peninsula. TO that end, from the evening of June 26, every energy of the army was bent. On the 26th the Quartermaster, Van Vliet, was ordered to run the cars to the last moment, loaded with subsistence and ammunition, to Savage's Station by way of Bottom's Bridge. Throw all our supplies up James River as soon as possible and accompany them with all your force."

The Memoirs go on: "I was convinced that Jackson was really approaching in large force. The position of Beaver Dam Creek, although so successfully defended, had its right flank too much in the air and was too far from the main army to make it available to retain it longer. I therefore decided to send the guns over the river during the night and to withdraw Porter's corps [to Boatswain Creek] in order to cover the withdrawal of the army."

 

June 27, 1862 10:00 a.m.

Edwin Stanton

During the night we drew in McCall's division about three miles. (Porter's entire corps moved south to Boatswain Creek) The change of position was executed with little loss.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

June 27, 1862 Noon

Edwin Stanton

My change of position just in time.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

June 27, 1862

Mary Ellen

Heavy firing in all directions. So far we have repulsed them everywhere. I expect wire to be cut at any moment.

George

 

June 27, 1862 1:00 p.m.

Edwin Stanton

The enemy neglects White House thus far and bestows all his attention on us. If I am forced to concentrate between the Chickahominy and the James I will at once endeavor to open communication with you.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen.

 

Note: About 5:00 p.m. McClellan received from Porter this message: "I am pressed hard, very hard. About every regiment I have is in action. Without help I shall be driven from my position."

 

June 27, 1862 5:30 p.m.

Fitz John Porter

Hold your own. Eight regiments from Sumner move at once to your support.

G.B. McClellan

 

June 27, 1862 8:00 p.m.

Edwin Stanton

On left bank we hold our own very dearly. I may be forced to give up my position during the night, but will not if it is possible to avoid it.

G.B. McClellan

 

Note: Mac constantly uses the verb "forced" as the predicate for his retrograde movements, when, in fact, he is holding his lines and voluntarily giving them up.

 

June 27, 1862 10:30 p.m.

Commodore Goldsborough

Instruct the gun boats on the James to cover the left flank of the army. We have met a severe repulse today having been attacked by vastly superior numbers, and I am obliged to fall back between the Chickahominy and the James River.

G.B. McClellan

 

Note: McClellan's use of the word "repulse" seems out of order. The context suggests that his forces were the attackers and their attack was repulsed, when, in fact, Lee's forces are the attacker and they were repeatedly repulsed by Porter's forces throughout the day, only finally breaking through Porter's center when dusk was falling.

McClellan's reference to be being "attacked by vastly superior numbers" is also out of order. Porter was indeed substantially outnumbered on the east bank of the river by Lee's forces, but this was because McClellan chose to allow the disparity of numbers. Finally, McClellan was not "obliged" by events to fall back; he chose to fall back, intending to do so from the moment he became aware (around June 20) that Jackson was headed his way.

 

June 28, 1862 12:20 a.m.

Savage Station

Edwin Stanton

On the east bank of the river our men did all that men could do, but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers even after I brought my last reserves into action. I have not a man in reserve and shall be glad to cover my retreat and save the material and personnel of the Army. I have lost this battle because my force was too small. I am not responsible for this. I shall draw back to this side of the Chickahominy. I should have gained this battle had I had 10,000 fresh troops. I feel that the Government has not sustained this Army. If I save this Army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other person in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this Army.

G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen. Commanding

 

Note: What can be said about this language of McClellan's? It is true and it is not true.  Lincoln did not, in fact, properly support McClellan's army. He had no problem allowing Halleck, in the West, to take direct command of all the troops available there, over 127,000 men, and allow him to move them in mass upon Corinth, taking over thirty days to get there from Shiloh. But the only capital Halleck was responsible to protect was the Capital of Tennessee. In the East, had McClellan had direct command of all the available troops it would have meant that he was personally responsible for the security of the Union capital at Washington, a responsibility that Lincoln obviously felt he and he alone had to shoulder. Furthermore, unlike with Halleck's situation in the West, there was, in fact, a substantial enemy force operating independently of the contest going on at Richmond and it was a threat (although plainly a weak one) to the security of Washington. As Commander-in-Chief Lincoln obviously felt that he could not ignore it, or at least that he could not allow McClellan to be responsible for neutralizing it.

So the problem comes down to the man. Lincoln did not have the level of confidence in McClellan that, in his mind, would have justified him, as Commander-in-Chief, in delegating to McClellan the responsibility to guarantee the security of Washington and, as the consequence, he held back more men from McClellan than was actually necessary to guarantee that security. Had Lincoln had available to him Washington, or for that matter, Lee, would he, in the same situation, have delegated this responsibility? Probably. (Grant, at this time, was still too obscure a general officer to warrant Lincoln's attention.)

McClellan's last words are bitterly harsh and untrue. Had their roles been reserved, I think the evidence is clear that General Lee would have held the position at Beaver Dam Creek: standing on the defensive on the west bank of the Chickahominy, he would have reinforced Porter's corps with at least Franklin's and Sumner's corps, leaving Keyes and Heintzelman to hold the fortifications between White Oak Swamp and Fair Oaks Station. He would have risked the fate of the army, calculating that his Government would get McDowell's corps down to him in time to support his right and keep the enemy off the York River Railroad. Once the enemy's offensive ground to a halt, Lee would have launched a counteroffensive and the "final" battle for Richmond would have been fought out then and there.

June 29, 1862 3:00 p.m.

In the Field (Probably near Malvern Hill)

My own dear Nelly

We have fought a terrible battle against overwhelming numbers. We held our own and history will know that I have done all that man can do. Your uncle was killed. Tell his children that I will stand in his place.

Your loving husband, Geo.

 

 

   June 29, 1862 7:00 p.m.

Malvern Hill

Edwin Stanton

Another day of desperate fighting. We are hard pressed by superior numbers. I fear I shall be forced to abandon my materials to save my men under the cover of the gun boats. My Army has behaved superbly. If none of us escape we shall at least have done honor to the country. Send more gun boats.

G.B. McClellan

 

Note: General Lee did, indeed, press McClellan hard, but not with superior numbers; he ordered frontal attack after frontal attack to maintain the illusion that he had a bottomless well of men to throw into the fire. McClellan could not conceive of a general doing this, without having a bottomless well. In fact, by the time dusk fell on the 29th, General Lee's army was shattered and exhausted; had McClellan seized the initiative at this point and attacked him, Lee might have been forced to back up.

What Happened in June 1862

 

In The House of Representatives

The War In The West

The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant June 1862

The War In The East

The Battle of Gaines Mill

The Papers of General McClellan June 1862


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Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan Original Works

@ AmericanCivilWar.com

Joe Ryan Video Battlewalks

 
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.
 

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