The President had early discerned what must become the dominating and decisive lines of advance in gaining and holding military control of the Southern States. Only two days after the battle of Bull Run, he had written a memorandum suggesting three principal objects for the army when reorganized: First, to gather a force to menace Richmond; second, a movement from Cincinnati upon Cumberland Gap and East Tennessee; third, an expedition from Cairo against Memphis. In his eyes, the second of these objectives never lost its importance; and it was in fact substantially adopted by indirection and by necessity in the closing periods of the war. The eastern third of the State of Tennessee remained from the first stubbornly and devotedly loyal to the Union. At an election on June 8, 1861, the people of twenty-nine counties, by more than two to one, voted against joining the Confederacy; and the most rigorous military repression by the orders of Jefferson Davis and Governor Harris was necessary to prevent a general uprising against the rebellion.
The sympathy of the President, even more than that of the whole North, went out warmly to these unfortunate Tennesseeans, and he desired to convert their mountain fastnesses into an impregnable patriotic stronghold. Had his advice been followed, it would have completely severed railroad communication, by way of the Shenandoah valley, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, between Virginia and the Gulf States, accomplishing in the winter of 1861 what was not attained until two years later. Mr. Lincoln urged this in a second memorandum, made late in September; and seeing that the principal objection to it lay in the long and difficult line of land transportation, his message to Congress of December 3, 1861, recommended, as a military measure, the construction of a railroad to connect Cincinnati, by way of Lexington, Kentucky, with that mountain region.
A few days after the message, he personally went to the President's room in the Capitol building, and calling around him a number of leading senators and representatives, and pointing out on a map before them the East Tennessee region, said to them in substance:
I am thoroughly convinced that the closing struggle of the war will occur somewhere in this mountain country. By our superior numbers and strength we will everywhere drive the rebel armies back from the level districts lying along the coast, from those lying south of the Ohio River, and from those lying east of the Mississippi River. Yielding to our superior force, they will gradually retreat to the more defensible mountain districts, and make their final stand in that part of the South where the seven States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia come together. The population there is overwhelmingly and devotedly loyal to the Union. The despatches from Brigadier-General Thomas of October 28 and November 5 show that, with four additional good regiments, he is willing to undertake the campaign and is confident he can take immediate possession. Once established, the people will rally to his support, and by building a railroad, over which to forward him regular supplies and needed reinforcements from time to time, we can hold it against all attempts to dislodge us, and at the same time menace the enemy in any one of the States I have named.
While his hearers listened with interest, it was evident that their minds were still full of the prospect of a great battle in Virginia, the capture of Richmond, and an early suppression of the rebellion. Railroad building appeared to them altogether too slow an operation of war. To show how sagacious was the President's advice, we may anticipate by recalling that in the following summer General Buell spent as much time, money, and military strength in his attempted march from Corinth to East Tennessee as would have amply sufficed to build the line from Lexington to Knoxville recommended by Mr. Lincoln—the general's effort resulting only in his being driven back to Louisville; that in 1863, Burnside, under greater difficulties, made the march and successfully held Knoxville, even without a railroad, which Thomas with a few regiments could have accomplished in 1861; and that in the final collapse of the rebellion, in the spring of 1865, the beaten armies of both Johnston and Lee attempted to retreat for a last stand to this same mountain region which Mr. Lincoln pointed out in December, 1861.
Though the President received no encouragement from senators and representatives in his plan to take possession of East Tennessee, that object was specially enjoined in the instructions to General Buell when he was sent to command in Kentucky.
"It so happens that a large majority of the inhabitants of eastern Tennessee are in favor of the Union; it therefore seems proper that you should remain on the defensive on the line from Louisville to Nashville, while you throw the mass of your forces by rapid marches by Cumberland Gap or Walker's Gap on Knoxville, in order to occupy the railroad at that point, and thus enable the loyal citizens of eastern Tennessee to rise, while you at the same time cut off the railway communication between eastern Virginia and the Mississippi."
Three times within the same month McClellan repeated this injunction to Buell with additional emphasis. Senator Andrew Johnson and Representative Horace Maynard telegraphed him from Washington:
"Our people are oppressed and pursued as beasts of the forest; the government must come to their relief."
Buell replied, keeping the word of promise to the ear, but, with his ambition fixed on a different campaign, gradually but doggedly broke it to the hope. When, a month later, he acknowledged that his preparations and intent were to move against Nashville, the President wrote him:
"Of the two, I would rather have a point on the railroad south of Cumberland Gap than Nashville. First, because it cuts a great artery of the enemy's communication which Nashville does not; and, secondly, because it is in the midst of loyal people, who would rally around it, while Nashville is not.... But my distress is that our friends in East Tennessee are being hanged and driven to despair, and even now, I fear, are thinking of taking rebel arms for the sake of personal protection. In this we lose the most valuable stake we have in the South."
McClellan's comment amounted to a severe censure, and this was quickly followed by an almost positive command to "advance on eastern Tennessee at once." Again Buell promised compliance, only, however, again to report in a few weeks his conviction "that an advance into East Tennessee is impracticable at this time on any scale which would be sufficient." It is difficult to speculate upon the advantages lost by this unwillingness of a commander to obey instructions. To say nothing of the strategical value of East Tennessee to the Union, the fidelity of its people is shown in the reports sent to the Confederate government that "the whole country is now in a state of rebellion"; that "civil war has broken out in East Tennessee"; and that "they look for the reestablishment of the Federal authority in the South with as much confidence as the Jews look for the coming of the Messiah."
Henry W. Halleck, born in 1815, graduated from West Point in 1839, who, after distinguished service in the Mexican war, had been brevetted captain of Engineers, but soon afterward resigned from the army to pursue the practice of law in San Francisco, was, perhaps, the best professionally equipped officer among the number of those called by General Scott in the summer of 1861 to assume important command in the Union army. It is probable that Scott intended he should succeed himself as general-in-chief; but when he reached Washington the autumn was already late, and because of Fremont's conspicuous failure it seemed necessary to send Halleck to the Department of the Missouri, which, as reconstituted, was made to include, in addition to several northwestern States, Missouri and Arkansas, and so much of Kentucky as lay west of the Cumberland River. This change of department lines indicates the beginning of what soon became a dominant feature of military operations; namely, that instead of the vast regions lying west of the Mississippi, the great river itself, and the country lying immediately adjacent to it on either side, became the third principal field of strategy and action, under the necessity of opening and holding it as a great military and commercial highway.
While the intention of the government to open the Mississippi River by a powerful expedition received additional emphasis through Halleck's appointment, that general found no immediate means adequate to the task when he assumed command at St. Louis. Fremont's regime had left the whole department in the most deplorable confusion. Halleck reported that he had no army, but, rather, a military rabble to command and for some weeks devoted himself with energy and success to bringing order out of the chaos left him by his predecessor. A large element of his difficulty lay in the fact that the population of the whole State was tainted with disloyalty to a degree which rendered Missouri less a factor in the larger questions of general army operations, than from the beginning to the end of the war a local district of bitter and relentless factional hatred and guerrilla or, as the term was constantly employed, "bushwhacking" warfare, intensified and kept alive by annual roving Confederate incursions from Arkansas and the Indian Territory in desultory summer campaigns.
Lincoln Directs Cooeperation—Halleck and Buell—Ulysses S. Grant—Grant's Demonstration—Victory at Mill River—Fort Henry—Fort Donelson—Buell's Tardiness—Halleck's Activity—Victory of Pea Ridge—Halleck Receives General Command—Pittsburg Landing—Island No. 10—Halleck's Corinth Campaign—Halleck's Mistakes
Toward the end of December, 1861, the prospects of the administration became very gloomy. McClellan had indeed organized a formidable army at Washington, but it had done nothing to efface the memory of the Bull Run defeat. On the contrary, a practical blockade of the Potomac by rebel batteries on the Virginia shore, and another small but irritating defeat at Ball's Bluff, greatly heightened public impatience. The necessary surrender of Mason and Slidell to England was exceedingly unpalatable. Government expenditures had risen to $2,000,000 a day, and a financial crisis was imminent. Buell would not move into East Tennessee, and Halleck seemed powerless in Missouri. Added to this, McClellan's illness completed a stagnation of military affairs both east and west. Congress was clamoring for results, and its joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was pushing a searching inquiry into the causes of previous defeats.
To remove this inertia, President Lincoln directed specific questions to the Western commanders. "Are General Buell and yourself in concert?" he telegraphed Halleck on December 31. And next day he wrote:
"I am very anxious that, in case of General Buell's moving toward Nashville, the enemy shall not be greatly reinforced, and I think there is danger he will be from Columbus. It seems to me that a real or feigned attack on Columbus from up-river at the same time would either prevent this, or compensate for it by throwing Columbus into our hands."
Similar questions also went to Buell, and their replies showed that no concert, arrangement, or plans existed, and that Halleck was not ready to cooeperate. The correspondence started by the President's inquiry for the first time clearly brought out an estimate of the Confederate strength opposed to a southward movement in the West. Since the Confederate invasion of Kentucky on September 4, the rebels had so strongly fortified Columbus on the Mississippi River that it came to be called the "Gibraltar of the West," and now had a garrison of twenty thousand to hold it; while General Buckner was supposed to have a force of forty thousand at Bowling Green on the railroad between Louisville and Nashville. For more than a month Buell and Halleck had been aware that a joint river and land expedition southward up the Tennessee or the Cumberland River, which would outflank both positions and cause their evacuation, was practicable with but little opposition. Yet neither Buell nor Halleck had exchanged a word about it, or made the slightest preparation to begin it; each being busy in his own field, and with his own plans. Even now, when the President had started the subject, Halleck replied that it would be bad strategy for himself to move against Columbus, or Buell against Bowling Green; but he had nothing to say about a Tennessee River expedition, or cooeperation with Buell to effect it, except by indirectly complaining that to withdraw troops from Missouri would risk the loss of that State.
The President, however, was no longer satisfied with indecision and excuses, and telegraphed to Buell on January 7:
"Please name as early a day as you safely can on or before which you can be ready to move southward in concert with Major-General Halleck. Delay is ruining us, and it is indispensable for me to have something definite. I send a like despatch to Major-General Halleck."
To this Buell made no direct reply, while Halleck answered that he had asked Buell to designate a date for a demonstration, and explained two days later: "I can make, with the gunboats and available troops, a pretty formidable demonstration, but no real attack." In point of fact, Halleck had on the previous day, January 6, written to Brigadier-General U.S. Grant: "I wish you to make a demonstration in force": and he added full details, to which Grant responded on January 8: "Your instructions of the sixth were received this morning, and immediate preparations made for carrying them out"; also adding details on his part.
Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822, was graduated from West Point in 1843, and brevetted captain for gallant conduct in the Mexican War; but resigned from the army and was engaged with his father in a leather store at Galena, Illinois, when the Civil War broke out. Employed by the governor of Illinois a few weeks at Springfield to assist in organizing militia regiments under the President's first call, Grant wrote a letter to the War Department at Washington tendering his services, and saying: "I feel myself competent to command a regiment, if the President in his judgment should see fit to intrust one to me." For some reason, never explained, this letter remained unanswered, though the department was then and afterward in constant need of educated and experienced officers. A few weeks later, however, Governor Yates commissioned him colonel of one of the Illinois three years' regiments. From that time until the end of 1861, Grant, by constant and specially meritorious service, rose in rank to brigadier-general and to the command of the important post of Cairo, Illinois, having meanwhile, on November 7, won the battle of Belmont on the Missouri shore opposite Columbus.
The "demonstration'" ordered by Halleck was probably intended only as a passing show of activity; but it was executed by Grant, though under strict orders to "avoid a battle," with a degree of promptness and earnestness that drew after it momentous consequences. He pushed a strong reconnaissance by eight thousand men within a mile or two of Columbus, and sent three gunboats up the Tennessee River, which drew the fire of Fort Henry. The results of the combined expedition convinced Grant that a real movement in that direction was practicable, and he hastened to St. Louis to lay his plan personally before Halleck. At first that general would scarcely listen to it; but, returning to Cairo, Grant urged it again and again, and the rapidly changing military conditions soon caused Halleck to realize its importance.
Within a few days, several items of interesting information reached Halleck: that General Thomas, in eastern Kentucky, had won a victory over the rebel General Zollicoffer, capturing his fortified camp on Cumberland River, annihilating his army of over ten regiments, and fully exposing Cumberland Gap; that the Confederates were about to throw strong reinforcements into Columbus; that seven formidable Union ironclad river gunboats were ready for service; and that a rise of fourteen feet had taken place in the Tennessee River, greatly weakening the rebel batteries on that stream and the Cumberland. The advantages on the one hand, and the dangers on the other, which these reports indicated, moved Halleck to a sudden decision. When Grant, on January 28, telegraphed him: "With permission, I will take Fort Henry on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there," Halleck responded on the thirtieth: "Make your preparations to take and hold Fort Henry."
It would appear that Grant's preparations were already quite complete when he received written instructions by mail on February 1, for on the next day he started fifteen thousand men on transports, and on February 4 himself followed with seven gunboats under command of Commodore Foote. Two days later, Grant had the satisfaction of sending a double message in return: "Fort Henry is ours.... I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the eighth."
Fort Henry had been an easy victory. The rebel commander, convinced that he could not defend the place, had early that morning sent away his garrison of three thousand on a retreat to Fort Donelson, and simply held out during a two hours' bombardment until they could escape capture. To take Fort Donelson was a more serious enterprise. That stronghold, lying twelve miles away on the Cumberland River, was a much larger work, with a garrison of six thousand, and armed with seventeen heavy and forty-eight field guns. If Grant could have marched immediately to an attack of the combined garrisons, there would have been a chance of quick success. But the high water presented unlooked-for obstacles, and nearly a week elapsed before his army began stretching itself cautiously around the three miles of Donelson's intrenchments. During this delay, the conditions became greatly changed. When the Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston received news that Fort Henry had fallen, he held a council at Bowling Green with his subordinate generals Hardee and Beauregard, and seeing that the Union success would, if not immediately counteracted, render both Nashville and Columbus untenable, resolved, to use his own language, "To defend Nashville at Donelson."
An immediate retreat was begun from Bowling Green to Nashville, and heavy reinforcements were ordered to the garrison of Fort Donelson. It happened, therefore, that when Grant was ready to begin his assault the Confederate garrison with its reinforcements outnumbered his entire army. To increase the discouragement, the attack by gunboats on the Cumberland River on the afternoon of February 14 was repulsed, seriously damaging two of them, and a heavy sortie from the fort threw the right of Grant's investing line into disorder. Fortunately, General Halleck at St. Louis strained all his energies to send reinforcements, and these arrived in time to restore Grant's advantage in numbers.
Serious disagreement among the Confederate commanders also hastened the fall of the place. On February 16, General Buckner, to whom the senior officers had turned over the command, proposed an armistice, and the appointment of commissioners to agree on terms of capitulation. To this Grant responded with a characteristic spirit of determination: "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." Buckner complained that the terms were ungenerous and unchivalric, but that necessity compelled him to accept them; and Grant telegraphed Halleck on February 16: "We have taken Fort Donelson, and from twelve to fifteen thousand prisoners." The senior Confederate generals, Pillow and Floyd, and a portion of the garrison had escaped by the Cumberland River during the preceding night.
Since the fall of Fort Henry on February 6, a lively correspondence had been going on, in which General Halleck besought Buell to come with his available forces, assist in capturing Donelson, and command the column up the Cumberland to cut off both Columbus and Nashville. President Lincoln, scanning the news with intense solicitude, and losing no opportunity to urge effective cooeperation, telegraphed Halleck:
"You have Fort Donelson safe, unless Grant shall be overwhelmed from outside: to prevent which latter will, I think, require all the vigilance, energy, and skill of yourself and Buell, acting in full cooeperation. Columbus will not get at Grant, but the force from Bowling Green will. They hold the railroad from Bowling Green to within a few miles of Fort Donelson, with the bridge at Clarksville undisturbed. It is unsafe to rely that they will not dare to expose Nashville to Buell. A small part of their force can retire slowly toward Nashville, breaking up the railroad as they go, and keep Buell out of that city twenty days. Meantime, Nashville will be abundantly defended by forces from all south and perhaps from here at Manassas. Could not a cavalry force from General Thomas on the upper Cumberland dash across, almost unresisted, and cut the railroad at or near Knoxville, Tennessee? In the midst of a bombardment at Fort Donelson, why could not a gunboat run up and destroy the bridge at Clarksville? Our success or failure at Fort Donelson is vastly important, and I beg you to put your soul in the effort. I send a copy of this to Buell."
This telegram abundantly shows with what minute understanding and accurate judgment the President comprehended military conditions and results in the West. Buell, however, was too intent upon his own separate movement to seize the brilliant opportunity offered him. As he only in a feeble advance followed up the retreating Confederate column from Bowling Green to Nashville, Halleck naturally appropriated to himself the merit of the campaign, and telegraphed to Washington on the day after the surrender:
"Make Buell, Grant, and Pope major-generals of volunteers, and give me command in the West. I ask this in return for Forts Henry and Donelson."
The eagerness of General Halleck for superior command in the West was, to say the least, very pardonable. A vast horizon of possibilities was opening up to his view. Two other campaigns under his direction were exciting his liveliest hopes. Late in December he had collected an army of ten thousand at the railroad terminus at Rolla, Missouri, under command of Brigadier-General Curtis, for the purpose of scattering the rebel forces under General Price at Springfield or driving them out of the State. Despite the hard winter weather, Halleck urged on the movement with almost peremptory orders, and Curtis executed the intentions of his chief with such alacrity that Price was forced into a rapid and damaging retreat from Springfield toward Arkansas. While forcing this enterprise in the southwest, Halleck had also determined on an important campaign in southeast Missouri.
Next to Columbus, which the enemy evacuated on March 2, the strongest Confederate fortifications on the Mississippi River were at Island No. 10, about forty miles farther to the south. To operate against these, he planned an expedition under Brigadier-General Pope to capture the town of New Madrid as a preliminary step. Columbus and Nashville were almost sure to fall as the result of Donelson. If now he could bring his two Missouri campaigns into a combination with two swift and strong Tennessee expeditions, while the enemy was in scattered retreat, he could look forward to the speedy capture of Memphis. But to the realization of such a project, the hesitation and slowness of Buell were a serious hindrance. That general had indeed started a division under Nelson to Grant's assistance, but it was not yet in the Cumberland when Donelson surrendered. Halleck's demand for enlarged power, therefore, became almost imperative. He pleaded earnestly with Buell:
"I have asked the President to make you a major-general. Come down to the Cumberland and take command. The battle of the West is to be fought in that vicinity.... There will be no battle at Nashville." His telegrams to McClellan were more urgent. "Give it [the Western Division] to me, and I will split secession in twain in one month." And again: "I must have command of the armies in the West. Hesitation and delay are losing us the golden opportunity. Lay this before the President and Secretary of War. May I assume the command? Answer quickly."
But McClellan was in no mood to sacrifice the ambition of his intimate friend and favorite, General Buell, and induced the President to withhold his consent; and while the generals were debating by telegraph, Nelson's division of the army of Buell moved up the Cumberland and occupied Nashville under the orders of Grant. Halleck, however, held tenaciously to his views and requests, explaining to McClellan that he himself proposed going to Tennessee:
"That is now the great strategic line of the western campaign, and I am surprised that General Buell should hesitate to reinforce me. He was too late at Fort Donelson.... Believe me, General, you make a serious mistake in having three independent commands in the West. There never will and never can be any cooeperation at the critical moment; all military history proves it."
This insistence had greater point because of the news received that Curtis, energetically following Price into Arkansas, had won a great Union victory at Pea Ridge, between March 5 and 8, over the united forces of Price and McCulloch, commanded by Van Dorn. At this juncture, events at Washington, hereafter to be mentioned, caused a reorganization of military commands and President Lincoln's Special War Order No. 3 consolidated the western departments of Hunter, Halleck, and Buell, as far east as Knoxville, Tennessee, under the title of the Department of the Mississippi, and placed General Halleck in command of the whole. Meanwhile, Halleck had ordered the victorious Union army at Fort Donelson to move forward to Savannah on the Tennessee River under the command of Grant; and, now that he had superior command, directed Buell to march all of his forces not required to defend Nashville "as rapidly as possible" to the same point. Halleck was still at St. Louis; and through the indecision of his further orders, through the slowness of Buell's march, and through the unexplained inattention of Grant, the Union armies narrowly escaped a serious disaster, which, however, the determined courage of the troops and subordinate officers turned into a most important victory.
The "golden opportunity" so earnestly pointed out by Halleck, while not entirely lost, was nevertheless seriously diminished by the hesitation and delay of the Union commanders to agree upon some plan of effective cooeperation. When, at the fall of Fort Donelson the Confederates retreated from Nashville toward Chattanooga, and from Columbus toward Jackson, a swift advance by the Tennessee River could have kept them separated; but as that open highway was not promptly followed in force, the flying Confederate detachments found abundant leisure to form a junction.
Grant reached Savannah, on the east bank of the Tennessee River, about the middle of March, and in a few days began massing troops at Pittsburg Landing, six miles farther south, on the west bank of the Tennessee; still keeping his headquarters at Savannah, to await the arrival of Buell and his army. During the next two weeks he reported several times that the enemy was concentrating at Corinth, Mississippi, an important railroad crossing twenty miles from Pittsburg Landing, the estimate of their number varying from forty to eighty thousand. All this time his mind was so filled with an eager intention to begin a march upon Corinth, and a confidence that he could win a victory by a prompt attack, that he neglected the essential precaution of providing against an attack by the enemy, which at the same time was occupying the thoughts of the Confederate commander General Johnston.
General Grant was therefore greatly surprised on the morning of April 6, when he proceeded from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing, to learn the cause of a fierce cannonade. He found that the Confederate army, forty thousand strong, was making an unexpected and determined attack in force on the Union camp, whose five divisions numbered a total of about thirty-three thousand. The Union generals had made no provision against such an attack. No intrenchments had been thrown up, no plan or understanding arranged. A few preliminary picket skirmishes had, indeed, put the Union front on the alert, but the commanders of brigades and regiments were not prepared for the impetuous rush with which the three successive Confederate lines began the main battle. On their part, the enemy did not realize their hope of effecting a complete surprise, and the nature of the ground was so characterized by a network of local roads, alternating patches of woods and open fields, miry hollows and abrupt ravines, that the lines of conflict were quickly broken into short, disjointed movements that admitted of little or no combined or systematic direction. The effort of the Union officers was necessarily limited to a continuous resistance to the advance of the enemy, from whatever direction it came; that of the Confederate leaders to the general purpose of forcing the Union lines away from Pittsburg Landing so that they might destroy the Federal transports and thus cut off all means of retreat. In this effort, although during the whole of Sunday, April 6, the Union front had been forced back a mile and a half, the enemy had not entirely succeeded. About sunset, General Beauregard, who, by the death of General Johnston during the afternoon, succeeded to the Confederate command, gave orders to suspend the attack, in the firm expectation however, that he would be able to complete his victory the next morning.
But in this hope he was disappointed. During the day the vanguard of Buell's army had arrived on the opposite bank of the river. Before nightfall one of his brigades was ferried across and deployed in front of the exultant enemy. During the night and early Monday morning three superb divisions of Buell's army, about twenty thousand fresh, well-drilled troops, were advanced to the front under Buell's own direction; and by three o'clock of that day the two wings of the Union army were once more in possession of all the ground that had been lost on the previous day, while the foiled and disorganized Confederates were in full retreat upon Corinth. The severity of the battle may be judged by the losses. In the Union army: killed, 1754; wounded, 8408; missing, 2885. In the Confederate army: killed, 1728; wounded, 8012; missing. 954.
Having comprehended the uncertainty of Buell's successful junction with Grant, Halleck must have received tidings of the final victory at Pittsburg Landing with emotions of deep satisfaction. To this was now joined the further gratifying news that the enemy on that same momentous April 7 had surrendered Island No. 10, together with six or seven thousand Confederate troops, including three general officers, to the combined operations of General Pope and Flag-Officer Foote. Full particulars of these two important victories did not reach Halleck for several days. Following previous suggestions, Pope and Foote promptly moved their gunboats and troops down the river to the next Confederate stronghold, Fort Pillow, where extensive fortifications, aided by an overflow of the adjacent river banks, indicated strong resistance and considerable delay. When all the conditions became more fully known, Halleck at length adopted the resolution, to which he had been strongly leaning for some time, to take the field himself. About April 10 he proceeded from St. Louis to Pittsburg Landing, and on the fifteenth ordered Pope with his army to join him there, which the latter, having his troops already on transports succeeded in accomplishing by April 22. Halleck immediately effected a new organization, combining the armies of the Tennessee, of the Ohio, and of the Mississippi into respectively his right wing, center, and left wing. He assumed command of the whole himself, and nominally made Grant second in command. Practically, however, he left Grant so little authority or work that the latter felt himself slighted, and asked leave to proceed to another field of duty.
It required but a few weeks to demonstrate that however high were Halleck's professional acquirements in other respects, he was totally unfit for a commander in the field. Grant had undoubtedly been careless in not providing against the enemy's attack at Pittsburg Landing. Halleck, on the other extreme, was now doubly over-cautious in his march upon Corinth. From first to last, his campaign resembled a siege. With over one hundred thousand men under his hand, he moved at a snail's pace, building roads and breastworks, and consuming more than a month in advancing a distance of twenty miles; during which period Beauregard managed to collect about fifty thousand effective Confederates and construct defensive fortifications with equal industry around Corinth. When, on May 29, Halleck was within assaulting distance of the rebel intrenchments Beauregard had leisurely removed his sick and wounded, destroyed or carried away his stores, and that night finally evacuated the place, leaving Halleck to reap, practically, a barren victory.
Nor were the general's plans and actions any more fruitful during the following six weeks. He wasted the time and energy of his soldiers multiplying useless fortifications about Corinth. He despatched Buell's wing of the army on a march toward eastern Tennessee but under such instructions and limitations that long before reaching its objective it was met by a Confederate army under General Bragg, and forced into a retrograde movement which carried it back to Louisville. More deplorable, however, than either of these errors of judgment was Halleck's neglect to seize the opportune moment when, by a vigorous movement in cooeperation with the brilliant naval victories under Flag-Officer Farragut, commanding a formidable fleet of Union war-ships, he might have completed the over-shadowing military task of opening the Mississippi River.
The Blockade—Hatteras Inlet—Roanoke Island—Fort Pulaski—Merrimac and Monitor—The Cumberland Sunk—The Congress Burned—Battle of the Ironclads—Flag-officer Farragut—Forts Jackson and St. Philip—New Orleans Captured—Farragut at Vicksburg—Farragut's Second Expedition to Vicksburg—Return to New Orleans
In addition to its heavy work of maintaining the Atlantic blockade, the navy of the United States contributed signally toward the suppression of the rebellion by three brilliant victories which it gained during the first half of the year 1862. After careful preparation during several months, a joint expedition under the command of General Ambrose E. Burnside and Flag-Officer Goldsborough, consisting of more than twelve thousand men and twenty ships of war, accompanied by numerous transports, sailed from Fort Monroe on January 11, with the object of occupying the interior waters of the North Carolina coast. Before the larger vessels could effect their entrance through Hatteras Inlet, captured in the previous August, a furious storm set in, which delayed the expedition nearly a month. By February 7, however, that and other serious difficulties were overcome, and on the following day the expedition captured Roanoke Island, and thus completely opened the whole interior water-system of Albemarle and Pamlico sounds to the easy approach of the Union fleet and forces.
From Roanoke Island as a base, minor expeditions within a short period effected the destruction of the not very formidable fleet which the enemy had been able to organize, and the reduction of Fort Macon and the rebel defenses of Elizabeth City, New Berne, and other smaller places. An eventual advance upon Goldsboro' formed part of the original plan; but, before it could be executed, circumstances intervened effectually to thwart that object.
While the gradual occupation of the North Carolina coast was going on, two other expeditions of a similar nature were making steady progress. One of them, under the direction of General Quincy A. Gillmore, carried on a remarkable siege operation against Fort Pulaski, standing on an isolated sea marsh at the mouth of the Savannah River. Here not only the difficulties of approach, but the apparently insurmountable obstacle of making the soft, unctuous mud sustain heavy batteries, was overcome, and the fort compelled to surrender on April 11, after an effective bombardment. The second was an expedition of nineteen ships, which, within a few days during the month of March, without serious resistance, occupied the whole remaining Atlantic coast southward as far as St. Augustine.
When, at the outbreak of the rebellion, the navy-yard at Norfolk, Virginia, had to be abandoned to the enemy, the destruction at that time attempted by Commodore Paulding remained very incomplete. Among the vessels set on fire, the screw-frigate Merrimac, which had been scuttled, was burned only to the water's edge, leaving her hull and machinery entirely uninjured. In due time she was raised by the Confederates, covered with a sloping roof of railroad iron, provided with a huge wedge-shaped prow of cast iron, and armed with a formidable battery of ten guns. Secret information came to the Navy Department of the progress of this work, and such a possibility was kept in mind by the board of officers that decided upon the construction of the three experimental ironclads in September, 1861.
The particular one of these three especially intended for this peculiar emergency was a ship of entirely novel design, made by the celebrated inventor John Ericsson, a Swede by birth, but American by adoption—a man who combined great original genius with long scientific study and experience. His invention may be most quickly described as having a small, very low hull, covered by a much longer and wider flat deck only a foot or two above the water-line, upon which was placed a revolving iron turret twenty feet in diameter, nine feet high, and eight inches thick, on the inside of which were two eleven-inch guns trained side by side and revolving with the turret. This unique naval structure was promptly nicknamed "a cheese-box on a raft," and the designation was not at all inapt. Naval experts at once recognized that her sea-going qualities were bad; but compensation was thought to exist in the belief that her iron turret would resist shot and shell, and that the thin edge of her flat deck would offer only a minimum mark to an enemy's guns: in other words, that she was no cruiser, but would prove a formidable floating battery; and this belief she abundantly justified.
The test of her fighting qualities was attended by what almost suggested a miraculous coincidence. On Saturday, March 8, 1862, about noon, a strange-looking craft resembling a huge turtle was seen coming into Hampton Roads out of the mouth of Elizabeth River, and it quickly became certain that this was the much talked of rebel ironclad Merrimac, or, as the Confederates had renamed her, the Virginia. She steamed rapidly toward Newport News, three miles to the southwest, where the Union ships Congress and Cumberland lay at anchor. These saw the uncouth monster coming and prepared for action. The Minnesota, the St. Lawrence, and the Roanoke, lying at Fortress Monroe also saw her and gave chase, but, the water being low, they all soon grounded. The broadsides of the Congress, as the Merrimac passed her at three hundred yards' distance, seemed to produce absolutely no effect upon her sloping iron roof. Neither did the broadsides of her intended prey, nor the fire of the shore batteries, for even an instant arrest her speed as, rushing on, she struck the Cumberland, and with her iron prow broke a hole as large as a hogshead in her side. Then backing away and hovering over her victim at convenient distance, she raked her decks with shot and shell until, after three quarters of an hour's combat, the Cumberland and her heroic defenders, who had maintained the fight with unyielding stubbornness, went to the bottom in fifty feet of water with colors flying.
Having sunk the Cumberland, the Merrimac next turned her attention to the Congress, which had meanwhile run into shoal water and grounded where the rebel vessel could not follow. But the Merrimac, being herself apparently proof against shot and shell by her iron plating, took up a raking position two cables' length away, and during an hour's firing deliberately reduced the Congress to helplessness and to surrender—her commander being killed and the vessel set on fire. The approach, the manoeuvering, and the two successive combats consumed the afternoon, and toward nightfall the Merrimac and her three small consorts that had taken little part in the action withdrew to the rebel batteries on the Virginia shore: not alone because of the approaching darkness and the fatigue of the crew, but because the rebel ship had really suffered considerable damage in ramming the Cumberland, as well as from one or two chance shots that entered her port-holes.
That same night, while the burning Congress yet lighted up the waters of Hampton Roads, a little ship, as strange-looking and as new to marine warfare as the rebel turtleback herself, arrived by sea in tow from New York, and receiving orders to proceed at once to the scene of conflict, stationed herself near the grounded Minnesota. This was Ericsson's "cheese-box on a raft," named by him the Monitor. The Union officers who had witnessed the day's events with dismay, and were filled with gloomy forebodings for the morrow, while welcoming this providential reinforcement, were by no means reassured. The Monitor was only half the size of her antagonist, and had only two guns to the other's ten. But this very disparity proved an essential advantage. With only ten feet draft to the Merrimac's twenty-two, she not only possessed superior mobility, but might run where the Merrimac could not follow. When, therefore, at eight o'clock on Sunday, March 9, the Merrimac again came into Hampton Roads to complete her victory, Lieutenant John L. Worden, commanding the Monitor, steamed boldly out to meet her.
Then ensued a three hours' naval conflict which held the breathless attention of the active participants and the spectators on ship and shore, and for many weeks excited the wonderment of the reading world. If the Monitor's solid eleven-inch balls bounded without apparent effect from the sloping roof of the Merrimac, so, in turn, the Merrimac's broadsides passed harmlessly over the low deck of the Monitor, or rebounded from the round sides of her iron turret. When the unwieldy rebel turtleback, with her slow, awkward movement, tried to ram the pointed raft that carried the cheese-box, the little vessel, obedient to her rudder, easily glided out of the line of direct impact.
Each ship passed through occasional moments of danger, but the long three hours' encounter ended without other serious damage than an injury to Lieutenant Worden by the explosion of a rebel shell against a crevice of the Monitor's pilot-house through which he was looking, which, temporarily blinding his eye-sight, disabled him from command. At that point the battle ended by mutual consent. The Monitor, unharmed except by a few unimportant dents in her plating, ran into shoal water to permit surgical attendance to her wounded officer. On her part, the Merrimac, abandoning any further molestation of the other ships, steamed away at noon to her retreat in Elizabeth River. The forty-one rounds fired from the Monitor's guns had so far weakened the Merrimac's armor that, added to the injuries of the previous day, it was of the highest prudence to avoid further conflict. A tragic fate soon ended the careers of both vessels. Owing to other military events, the Merrimac was abandoned, burned, and blown up by her officers about two months later; and in the following December, the Monitor foundered in a gale off Cape Hatteras. But the types of these pioneer ironclads, which had demonstrated such unprecedented fighting qualities, were continued. Before the end of the war the Union navy had more than twenty monitors in service; and the structure of the Merrimac was in a number of instances repeated by the Confederates.
The most brilliant of all the exploits of the navy during the year 1862 were those carried on under the command of Flag-Officer David G. Farragut, who, though a born Southerner and residing in Virginia when the rebellion broke out, remained loyal to the government and true to the flag he had served for forty-eight years. Various preparations had been made and various plans discussed for an effective attempt against some prominent point on the Gulf coast. Very naturally, all examinations of the subject inevitably pointed to the opening of the Mississippi as the dominant problem to be solved; and on January 9, Farragut was appointed to the command of the western Gulf blockading squadron, and eleven days thereafter received his confidential instructions to attempt the capture of the city of New Orleans.
Thus far in the war, Farragut had been assigned to no prominent service, but the patience with which he had awaited his opportunity was now more than compensated by the energy and thoroughness with which he superintended the organization of his fleet. By the middle of April he was in the lower Mississippi with seventeen men-of-war and one hundred and seventy-seven guns. With him were Commander David D. Porter, in charge of a mortar flotilla of nineteen schooners and six armed steamships, and General Benjamin F. Butler, at the head of an army contingent of six thousand men, soon to be followed by considerable reinforcements.
The first obstacle to be overcome was the fire from the twin forts Jackson and St. Philip, situated nearly opposite each other at a bend of the Mississippi twenty-five miles above the mouth of the river, while the city of New Orleans itself lies seventy-five miles farther up the stream. These were formidable forts of masonry, with an armament together of over a hundred guns, and garrisons of about six hundred men each. They also had auxiliary defenses: first, of a strong river barrier of log rafts and other obstructions connected by powerful chains, half a mile below the forts; second, of an improvised fleet of sixteen rebel gunboats and a formidable floating battery. None of Farragut's ships were ironclad. He had, from the beginning of the undertaking, maintained the theory that a wooden fleet, properly handled, could successfully pass the batteries of the forts. "I would as soon have a paper ship as an ironclad; only give me men to fight her!" he said. He might not come back; but New Orleans would be won. In his hazardous undertaking his faith was based largely on the skill and courage of his subordinate commanders of ships, and this faith was fully sustained by their gallantry and devotion.
Porter's flotilla of nineteen schooners carrying two mortars each, anchored below the forts, maintained a heavy bombardment for five days, and then Farragut decided to try his ships. On the night of the twentieth the daring work of two gunboats cut an opening through the river barrier through which the vessels might pass; and at two o'clock on the morning of April 24, Farragut gave the signal to advance. The first division of his fleet, eight vessels, led by Captain Bailey, successfully passed the barrier. The second division of nine ships was not quite so fortunate. Three of them failed to pass the barrier, but the others, led by Farragut himself in his flag-ship, the Hartford, followed the advance.
The starlit night was quickly obscured by the smoke of the general cannonade from both ships and forts; but the heavy batteries of the latter had little effect on the passing fleet. Farragut's flag-ship was for a short while in great danger. At a moment when she slightly grounded a huge fire-raft, fully ablaze, was pushed against her by a rebel tug, and the flames caught in the paint on her side, and mounted into her rigging. But this danger had also been provided against, and by heroic efforts the Hartford freed herself from her peril. Immediately above the forts, the fleet of rebel gunboats joined in the battle, which now resolved itself into a series of conflicts between single vessels or small groups. But the stronger and better-armed Union ships quickly destroyed the Confederate flotilla, with the single exception that two of the enemy's gunboats rammed the Varuna from opposite sides and sank her. Aside from this, the Union fleet sustained much miscellaneous damage, but no serious injury in the furious battle of an hour and a half.
With but a short halt at Quarantine, six miles above the forts, Farragut and his thirteen ships of war pushed on rapidly over the seventy-five miles, and on the forenoon of April 25 New Orleans lay helpless under the guns of the Union fleet. The city was promptly evacuated by the Confederate General Lovell. Meanwhile, General Butler was busy moving his transports and troops around outside by sea to Quarantine; and, having occupied that point in force, Forts Jackson and St. Philip capitulated on April 28. This last obstruction removed, Butler, after having garrisoned the forts, brought the bulk of his army up to New Orleans, and on May 1 Farragut turned over to him the formal possession of the city, where Butler continued in command of the Department of the Gulf until the following December.
Farragut immediately despatched an advance section of his fleet up the Mississippi. None of the important cities on its banks below Vicksburg had yet been fortified, and, without serious opposition, they surrendered as the Union ships successively reached them. Farragut himself, following with the remainder of his fleet, arrived at Vicksburg on May 20. This city, by reason of the high bluffs on which it stands, was the most defensible point on the whole length of the great river within the Southern States; but so confidently had the Confederates trusted to the strength of their works at Columbus, Island No. 10, Fort Pillow, and other points, that the fortifications of Vicksburg had thus far received comparatively little attention. The recent Union victories, however, both to the north and south, had awakened them to their danger; and when Lovell evacuated New Orleans, he shipped heavy guns and sent five Confederate regiments to Vicksburg; and during the eight days between their arrival on May 12 and the twentieth, on which day Farragut reached the city, six rebel batteries were put in readiness to fire on his ships.
General Halleck, while pushing his siege works toward Corinth, was notified as early as April 27 that Farragut was coming, and the logic of the situation ought to have induced him to send a cooeperating force to Farragut's assistance, or, at the very least, to have matured plans for such cooeperation. All the events would have favored an expedition of this kind. When Corinth, at the end of May, fell into Halleck's hands, Forts Pillow and Randolph on the Mississippi River were hastily evacuated by the enemy, and on June 6 the Union flotilla of river gunboats which had rendered such signal service at Henry, Donelson, and Island No. 10, reinforced by a hastily constructed flotilla of heavy river tugs converted into rams, gained another brilliant victory in a most dramatic naval battle at Memphis, during which an opposing Confederate flotilla of similar rams and gunboats was almost completely destroyed, and the immediate evacuation of Memphis by the Confederates thereby forced.
This left Vicksburg as the single barrier to the complete opening of the Mississippi, and that barrier was defended by only six batteries and a garrison of six Confederate regiments at the date of Farragut's arrival before it. But Farragut had with his expedition only two regiments of troops, and the rebel batteries were situated at such an elevation that the guns of the Union fleet could not be raised sufficiently to silence them. Neither help nor promise of help came from Halleck's army, and Farragut could therefore do nothing but turn his vessels down stream and return to New Orleans. There, about June 1, he received news from the Navy Department that the administration was exceedingly anxious to have the Mississippi opened; and this time, taking with him Porter's mortar flotilla and three thousand troops, he again proceeded up the river, and a second time reached Vicksburg on June 25.
The delay, however, had enabled the Confederates greatly to strengthen the fortifications and the garrison of the city. Neither a bombardment from Porter's mortar sloops, nor the running of Farragut's ships past the batteries, where they were joined by the Union gunboat flotilla from above, sufficed to bring the Confederates to a surrender. Farragut estimated that a cooeperating land force of twelve to fifteen thousand would have enabled him to take the works; and Halleck, on June 28 and July 3, partially promised early assistance. But on July 14 he reported definitely that it would be impossible for him to render the expected aid. Under these circumstances, the Navy Department ordered Farragut back to New Orleans, lest his ships of deep draft should be detained in the river by the rapidly falling water. The capture of Vicksburg was postponed for a whole year, and the early transfer of Halleck to Washington changed the current of Western campaigns.
McClellan's Illness—Lincoln Consults McDowell and Franklin—President's Plan against Manassas—McClellan's Plan against Richmond—Cameron and Stanton—President's War Order No. 1—Lincoln's Questions to McClellan—News from the West—Death of Willie Lincoln—The Harper's Ferry Fiasco—President's War Order No. 3—The News from Hampton Roads—Manassas Evacuated—Movement to the Peninsular—Yorktown—The Peninsula Campaign—Seven Days' Battles—Retreat to Harrison's Landing
We have seen how the express orders of President Lincoln in the early days of January, 1862, stirred the Western commanders to the beginning of active movements that brought about an important series of victories during the first half of the year. The results of his determination to break a similar military stagnation in the East need now to be related.
The gloomy outlook at the beginning of the year has already been mentioned. Finding on January 10 that General McClellan was still ill and unable to see him, he called Generals McDowell and Franklin into conference with himself, Seward, Chase, and the Assistant Secretary of War; and, explaining to them his dissatisfaction and distress at existing conditions, said to them that "if something were not soon done, the bottom would be out of the whole affair; and if General McClellan did not want to use the army, he would like to borrow it, provided he could see how it could be made to do something."
The two generals, differing on some other points, agreed, however, in a memorandum prepared next day at the President's request, that a direct movement against the Confederate army at Manassas was preferable to a movement by water against Richmond; that preparations for the former could be made in a week, while the latter would require a month or six weeks. Similar discussions were held on the eleventh and twelfth, and finally, on January 13, by which date General McClellan had sufficiently recovered to be present. McClellan took no pains to hide his displeasure at the proceedings, and ventured no explanation when the President asked what and when anything could be done. Chase repeated the direct interrogatory to McClellan himself, inquiring what he intended doing with his army, and when he intended doing it. McClellan stated his unwillingness to develop his plans, but said he would tell them if he was ordered to do so. The President then asked him if he had in his own mind any particular time fixed when a movement could be commenced. McClellan replied that he had. "Then," rejoined the President, "I will adjourn this meeting."
While these conferences were going on, a change occurred in the President's cabinet; Secretary of War Cameron, who had repeatedly expressed a desire to be relieved from the onerous duties of the War Department, was made minister to Russia and Edwin M. Stanton appointed to succeed him. Stanton had been Attorney-General during the last months of President Buchanan's administration, and, though a lifelong Democrat, had freely conferred and cooeperated with Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives in thwarting secession schemes. He was a lawyer of ability and experience, and, possessing organizing qualities of a high degree combined with a strong will and great physical endurance, gave his administration of the War Department a record for efficiency which it will be difficult for any future minister to equal; and for which service his few mistakes and subordinate faults of character will be readily forgotten. In his new functions, Stanton enthusiastically seconded the President's efforts to rouse the Army of the Potomac to speedy and vigorous action.
In his famous report, McClellan states that very soon after Stanton became Secretary of War he explained verbally to the latter his plan of a campaign against Richmond by way of the lower Chesapeake Bay, and at Stanton's direction also explained it to the President. It is not strange that neither the President nor the new Secretary approved it. The reasons which then existed against it in theory, and were afterward demonstrated in practice, are altogether too evident. As this first plan was never reduced to writing, it may be fairly inferred that it was one of those mere suggestions which, like all that had gone before, would serve only to postpone action.
The patience of the President was at length so far exhausted that on January 27 he wrote his General War Order No. I, which directed "that the 22d day of February, 1862, be the day for a general movement of all the land and naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces," and that the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, the general-in-chief, and all other commanders and subordinates of land and naval forces "will severally be held to their strict and full responsibilities for prompt execution of this order." To leave no doubt of his intention that the Army of the Potomac should make a beginning, the President, four days later, issued his Special War Order No. I, directing that after providing safely for the defense of Washington, it should move against the Confederate army at Manassas Junction, on or before the date announced.
As McClellan had been allowed to have his way almost without question for six months past, it was, perhaps, as much through mere habit of opposition as from any intelligent decision in his own mind that he again requested permission to present his objections to the President's plan. Mr. Lincoln, thereupon, to bring the discussion to a practical point, wrote him the following list of queries on February 3:
"MY DEAR SIR: You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac—yours to be down the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock to Urbana, and across land to the terminus of the railroad on the York River; mine, to move directly to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas.
"If you will give me satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours.
"First. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?"
"Second. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine?"
"Third. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine?"
"Fourth. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this, that it would break no great line of the enemy's communications, while mine would?"
"Fifth. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine?"
Instead of specifically answering the President's concise interrogatories, McClellan, on the following day, presented to the Secretary of War a long letter, reciting in much detail his statement of what he had done since coming to Washington, and giving a rambling outline of what he thought might be accomplished in the future prosecution of the war. His reasoning in favor of an advance by Chesapeake Bay upon Richmond, instead of against Manassas Junction, rests principally upon the assumption that at Manassas the enemy is prepared to resist, while at Richmond there are no preparations; that to win Manassas would give us only the field of battle and the moral effect of a victory, while to win Richmond would give us the rebel capital with its communications and supplies; that at Manassas we would fight on a field chosen by the enemy, while at Richmond we would fight on one chosen by ourselves. If as a preliminary hypothesis these comparisons looked plausible, succeeding events quickly exposed their fallacy.
The President, in his anxious studies and exhaustive discussion with military experts in the recent conferences, fully comprehended that under McClellan's labored strategical theories lay a fundamental error. It was not the capture of a place, but the destruction of the rebel armies that was needed to subdue the rebellion. But Mr. Lincoln also saw the fearful responsibility he would be taking upon himself if he forced McClellan to fight against his own judgment and protest, even though that judgment was incorrect. The whole subject, therefore, underwent a new and yet more elaborate investigation. The delay which this rendered necessary was soon greatly lengthened by two other causes. It was about this time that the telegraph brought news from the West of the surrender of Fort Henry, February 6, the investment of Fort Donelson on the thirteenth, and its surrender on the sixteenth, incidents which absorbed the constant attention of the President and the Secretary of War. Almost simultaneously, a heavy domestic sorrow fell upon Mr. Lincoln in the serious illness of his son Willie, an interesting and most promising lad of twelve, and his death in the White House on February 20.
When February 22 came, while there was plainly no full compliance with the President's War Order No. I, there was, nevertheless, such promise of a beginning, even at Washington, as justified reasonable expectation. The authorities looked almost hourly for the announcement of two preliminary movements which had been preparing for many days: one, to attack rebel batteries on the Virginia shore of the Potomac; the other to throw bridges—one of pontoons, the second a permanent bridge of canal-boats—across the river at Harper's Ferry, and an advance by Banks's division on Winchester to protect the opening of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and reestablish transportation to and from the West over that important route.
On the evening of February 27, Secretary Stanton came to the President, and, after locking the door to prevent interruption, opened and read two despatches from McClellan, who had gone personally to superintend the crossing. The first despatch from the general described the fine spirits of the troops, and the splendid throwing of the pontoon bridge by Captain Duane and his three lieutenants, for whom he at once recommended brevets, and the immediate crossing of eighty-five hundred infantry. This despatch was dated at ten o'clock the previous night. "The next is not so good," remarked the Secretary of War. It stated that the lift lock was too small to permit the canal-boats to enter the river, so that it was impossible to construct the permanent bridge. He would therefore be obliged to fall back upon the safe and slow plan of merely covering the reconstruction of the railroad, which would be tedious and make it impossible to seize Winchester.
"What does this mean?" asked the President, in amazement.
"It means," said the Secretary of War, "that it is a damned fizzle. It means that he doesn't intend to do anything."
The President's indignation was intense; and when, a little later, General Marcy, McClellan's father-in-law and chief of staff, came in, Lincoln's criticism of the affair was in sharper language than was his usual habit.
"Why, in the name of common sense," said he, excitedly, "couldn't the general have known whether canal-boats would go through that lock before he spent a million dollars getting them there? I am almost despairing at these results. Everything seems to fail. The impression is daily gaining ground that the general does not intend to do anything. By a failure like this we lose all the prestige gained by the capture of Fort Donelson."
The prediction of the Secretary of War proved correct. That same night, McClellan revoked Hooker's authority to cross the lower Potomac and demolish the rebel batteries about the Occoquan River. It was doubtless this Harper's Ferry incident which finally convinced the President that he could no longer leave McClellan intrusted with the sole and unrestricted exercise of military affairs. Yet that general had shown such decided ability in certain lines of his profession, and had plainly in so large a degree won the confidence of the Army of the Potomac itself, that he did not wish entirely to lose the benefit of his services. He still hoped that, once actively started in the field, he might yet develop valuable qualities of leadership. He had substantially decided to let him have his own way in his proposed campaign against Richmond by water, and orders to assemble the necessary vessels had been given before the Harper's Ferry failure was known.
Early on the morning of March 8, the President made one more effort to convert McClellan to a direct movement against Manassas, but without success. On the contrary, the general convened twelve of his division commanders in a council, who voted eight to four for the water route. This finally decided the question in the President's mind, but he carefully qualified the decision by two additional war orders of his own, written without consultation. President's General War Order No. 2 directed that the Army of the Potomac should be immediately organized into four army corps, to be respectively commanded by McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes, and a fifth under Banks. It is noteworthy that the first three of these had always earnestly advocated the Manassas movement. President's General War Order No. 3 directed, in substance: First. An immediate effort to capture the Potomac batteries. Second. That until that was accomplished not more than two army corps should be started on the Chesapeake campaign toward Richmond Third. That any Chesapeake movement should begin in ten days; and—Fourth. That no such movement should be ordered without leaving Washington entirely secure.
Even while the President was completing the drafting and copying of these important orders, events were transpiring which once more put a new face upon the proposed campaign against Richmond. During the forenoon of the next day, March 9, a despatch was received from Fortress Monroe, reporting the appearance of the rebel ironclad Merrimac, and the havoc she had wrought the previous afternoon—the Cumberland sunk, the Congress surrendered and burned, the Minnesota aground and about to be attacked. There was a quick gathering of officials at the Executive Mansion—Secretaries Stanton, Seward, Welles, Generals McClellan, Meigs, Totten, Commodore Smith, and Captain Dahlgren—and a scene of excitement ensued, unequaled by any other in the President's office during the war. Stanton walked up and down like a caged lion, and eager discussion animated cabinet and military officers. Two other despatches soon came, one from the captain of a vessel at Baltimore, who had left Fortress Monroe on the evening of the eighth, and a copy of a telegram to the "New York Tribune," giving more details.
President Lincoln was the coolest man in the whole gathering, carefully analyzing the language of the telegrams, to give their somewhat confused statements intelligible coherence. Wild suggestions flew from speaker to speaker about possible danger to be apprehended from the new marine terror—whether she might not be able to go to New York or Philadelphia and levy tribute, to Baltimore or Annapolis to destroy the transports gathered for McClellan's movement, or even to come up the Potomac and burn Washington; and all sorts of prudential measures and safeguards were proposed.
In the afternoon, however, apprehension was greatly quieted. That very day a cable was laid across the bay, giving direct telegraphic communication with Fortress Monroe, and Captain Fox, who happened to be on the spot, concisely reported at about 4 P.M. the dramatic sequel—the timely arrival of the Monitor, the interesting naval battle between the two ironclads, and that at noon the Merrimac had withdrawn from the conflict, and with her three small consorts steamed back into Elizabeth River.
Scarcely had the excitement over the Monitor and Merrimac news begun to subside, when, on the same afternoon, a new surprise burst upon the military authorities in a report that the whole Confederate army had evacuated its stronghold at Manassas and the batteries on the Potomac, and had retired southward to a new line behind the Rappahannock. General McClellan hastened across the river, and, finding the news to be correct, issued orders during the night for a general movement of the army next morning to the vacated rebel camps. The march was promptly accomplished, notwithstanding the bad roads, and the troops had the meager satisfaction of hoisting the Union flag over the deserted rebel earthworks.
For two weeks the enemy had been preparing for this retreat; and, beginning their evacuation on the seventh, their whole retrograde movement was completed by March 11, by which date they were secure in their new line of defense, "prepared for such an emergency—the south bank of the Rappahannock strengthened by field-works, and provided with a depot of food," writes General Johnston. No further comment is needed to show McClellan's utter incapacity or neglect, than that for full two months he had commanded an army of one hundred and ninety thousand, present for duty, within two days' march of the forty-seven thousand Confederates, present for duty, whom he thus permitted to march away to their new strongholds without a gun fired or even a meditated attack.
General McClellan had not only lost the chance of an easy and brilliant victory near Washington, but also the possibility of his favorite plan to move by water to Urbana on the lower Rappahannock, and from there by a land march via West Point toward Richmond. On that route the enemy was now in his way. He therefore, on March 13, hastily called a council of his corps commanders, who decided that under the new conditions it would be best to proceed by water to Fortress Monroe, and from there move up the Peninsula toward Richmond. To this new plan, adopted in the stress of excitement and haste, the President answered through the Secretary of War on the same day:
"First. Leave such force at Manassas Junction as shall make it entirely certain that the enemy shall not repossess himself of that position and line of communication."
"Second. Leave Washington entirely secure."
"Third. Move the remainder of the force down the Potomac, choosing a new base at Fort Monroe, or anywhere between here and there; or, at all events, move such remainder of the army at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route."
Two days before, the President had also announced a step which he had doubtless had in contemplation for many days, if not many weeks, namely, that—
"Major-General McClellan having personally taken the field at the head of the Army of the Potomac, until otherwise ordered, he is relieved from the command of the other military departments, he retaining command of the Department of the Potomac."
This order of March 11 included also the already mentioned consolidation of the western departments under Halleck; and out of the region lying between Halleck's command and McClellan's command it created the Mountain Department, the command of which he gave to General Fremont, whose reinstatement had been loudly clamored for by many prominent and enthusiastic followers.
As the preparations for a movement by water had been in progress since February 27, there was little delay in starting the Army of the Potomac on its new campaign. The troops began their embarkation on March 17, and by April 5 over one hundred thousand men, with all their material of war, had been transported to Fortress Monroe, where General McClellan himself arrived on the second of the month, and issued orders to begin his march on the fourth.
Unfortunately, right at the outset of this new campaign, General McClellan's incapacity and want of candor once more became sharply evident. In the plan formulated by the four corps commanders, and approved by himself, as well as emphatically repeated by the President's instructions, was the essential requirement that Washington should be left entirely secure. Learning that the general had neglected this positive injunction, the President ordered McDowell's corps to remain for the protection of the capital; and when the general complained of this, Mr. Lincoln wrote him on April 9:
"After you left I ascertained that less than twenty thousand unorganized men, without a single field-battery, were all you designed to be left for the defense of Washington and Manassas Junction; and part of this, even, was to go to General Hooker's old position. General Banks's corps, once designed for Manassas Junction, was divided and tied up on the line of Winchester and Strasburg, and could not leave it without again exposing the upper Potomac and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. This presented (or would present when McDowell and Sumner should be gone) a great temptation to the enemy to turn back from the Rappahannock and sack Washington. My explicit order that Washington should, by the judgment of all the commanders of corps, be left entirely secure, had been neglected. It was precisely this that drove me to detain McDowell.
"I do not forget that I was satisfied with your arrangement to leave Banks at Manassas Junction; but when that arrangement was broken up and nothing was substituted for it, of course I was not satisfied. I was constrained to substitute something for it myself."
"And now allow me to ask, do you really think I should permit the line from Richmond via Manassas Junction to this city to be entirely open, except what resistance could be presented by less than twenty thousand unorganized troops? This is a question which the country will not allow me to evade...."
"By delay, the enemy will relatively gain upon you—that is, he will gain faster by fortifications and reinforcements than you can by reinforcements alone. And once more let me tell you it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this. You will do me the justice to remember I always insisted that going down the bay in search of a field, instead of fighting at or near Manassas, was only shifting and not surmounting a difficulty; that we would find the same enemy and the same or equal intrenchments at either place. The country will not fail to note—is noting now—that the present hesitation to move upon an intrenched enemy is but the story of Manassas repeated."
General McClellan's expectations in coming to the Peninsula, first, that he would find few or no rebel intrenchments, and, second, that he would be able to make rapid movements, at once signally failed. On the afternoon of the second day's march he came to the first line of the enemy's defenses, heavy fortifications at Yorktown on the York River, and a strong line of intrenchments and dams flooding the Warwick River, extending to an impassable inlet from James River. But the situation was not yet desperate. Magruder, the Confederate commander, had only eleven thousand men to defend Yorktown and the thirteen-mile line of the Warwick. McClellan, on the contrary, had fifty thousand at hand, and as many more within call, with which to break the Confederate line and continue his proposed "rapid movements." But now, without any adequate reconnaissance or other vigorous effort, he at once gave up his thoughts of rapid movement, one of the main advantages he had always claimed for the water route, and adopted the slow expedient of a siege of Yorktown. Not alone was his original plan of campaign demonstrated to be faulty, but by this change in the method of its execution it became fatal.
It would be weary and exasperating to recount in detail the remaining principal episodes of McClellan's operations to gain possession of the Confederate capital. The whole campaign is a record of hesitation, delay, and mistakes in the chief command, brilliantly relieved by the heroic fighting and endurance of the troops and subordinate officers, gathering honor out of defeat, and shedding the luster of renown over a result of barren failure. McClellan wasted a month raising siege-works to bombard Yorktown, when he might have turned the place by two or three days' operations with his superior numbers of four to one. By his failure to give instructions after Yorktown was evacuated, he allowed a single division of his advance-guard to be beaten back at Williamsburg, when thirty thousand of their comrades were within reach, but without orders. He wrote to the President that he would have to fight double numbers intrenched, when his own army was actually twice as strong as that of his antagonist. Placing his army astride the Chickahominy, he afforded that antagonist, General Johnston, the opportunity, at a sudden rise of the river, to fall on one portion of his divided forces at Fair Oaks with overwhelming numbers. Finally, when he was within four miles of Richmond and was attacked by General Lee, he began a retreat to the James River, and after his corps commanders held the attacking enemy at bay by a successful battle on each of six successive days, he day after day gave up each field won or held by the valor and blood of his heroic soldiers. On July 1, the collected Union army made a stand at the battle of Malvern Hill, inflicting a defeat on the enemy which practically shattered the Confederate army, and in the course of a week caused it to retire within the fortifications of Richmond. During all this magnificent fighting, however, McClellan was oppressed by the apprehension of impending defeat; and even after the brilliant victory of Malvern Hill, continued his retreat to Harrison's Landing, where the Union gunboats on the James River assured him of safety and supplies.
It must be borne in mind that this Peninsula campaign, from the landing at Fortress Monroe to the battle at Malvern Hill, occupied three full months, and that during the first half of that period the government, yielding to McClellan's constant faultfinding and clamor for reinforcements, sent him forty thousand additional men; also that in the opinion of competent critics, both Union and Confederate, he had, after the battle of Fair Oaks, and twice during the seven days' battles, a brilliant opportunity to take advantage of Confederate mistakes, and by a vigorous offensive to capture Richmond. But constitutional indecision unfitted him to seize the fleeting chances of war. His hope of victory was always overawed by his fear of defeat. While he commanded during a large part of the campaign double, and always superior, numbers to the enemy, his imagination led him continually to double their strength in his reports. This delusion so wrought upon him that on the night of June 27 he sent the Secretary of War an almost despairing and insubordinate despatch, containing these inexcusable phrases:
"Had I twenty thousand or even ten thousand fresh troops to use to-morrow, I could take Richmond; but I have not a man in reserve, and shall be glad to cover my retreat and save the material and personnel of the army.... If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army."
Under almost any other ruler such language would have been quickly followed by trial and dismissal, if not by much severer punishment. But while Mr. Lincoln was shocked by McClellan's disrespect, he was yet more startled by the implied portent of the despatch. It indicated a loss of confidence and a perturbation of mind which rendered possible even a surrender of the whole army. The President, therefore, with his habitual freedom from passion, merely sent an unmoved and kind reply:
"Save your army at all events. Will send reinforcements as fast as we can. Of course they cannot reach you to-day, to-morrow, or next day. I have not said you were ungenerous for saying you needed reinforcements. I thought you were ungenerous in assuming that I did not send them as fast as I could. I feel any misfortune to you and your army quite as keenly as you feel it yourself. If you have had a drawn battle or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy not being in Washington."
Jackson's Valley Campaign—Lincoln's Visit to Scott—Pope Assigned to Command—Lee's Attack on McClellan—Retreat to Harrison's Landing—Seward Sent to New York—Lincoln's Letter to Seward—Lincoln's Letter to McClellan—Lincoln's Visit to McClellan—Halleck made General-in-Chief—Halleck's Visit to McClellan—Withdrawal from Harrison's Landing—Pope Assumes Command—Second Battle of Bull Run—The Cabinet Protest—McClellan Ordered to Defend Washington—The Maryland Campaign—Battle of Antietam—Lincoln Visits Antietam—Lincoln's Letter to McClellan—McClellan Removed from Command
During the month of May, while General McClellan was slowly working his way across the Chickahominy by bridge-building and intrenching, there occurred the episode of Stonewall Jackson's valley campaign, in which that eccentric and daring Confederate commander made a rapid and victorious march up the Shenandoah valley nearly to Harper's Ferry. Its principal effect upon the Richmond campaign was to turn back McDowell, who had been started on a land march to unite with the right wing of McClellan's army, under instructions, however, always to be in readiness to interpose his force against any attempt of the enemy to march upon Washington. This campaign of Stonewall Jackson's has been much lauded by military writers; but its temporary success resulted from good luck rather than military ability. Rationally considered, it was an imprudent and even reckless adventure that courted and would have resulted in destruction or capture had the junction of forces under McDowell, Shields, and Fremont, ordered by President Lincoln, not been thwarted by the mistake and delay of Fremont. It was an episode that signally demonstrated the wisdom of the President in having retained McDowell's corps for the protection of the national capital.
That, however, was not the only precaution to which the President had devoted his serious attention. During the whole of McClellan's Richmond campaign he had continually borne in mind the possibility of his defeat, and the eventualities it might create. Little by little, that general's hesitation, constant complaints, and exaggerated reports of the enemy's strength changed the President's apprehensions from possibility to probability; and he took prompt measures to be prepared as far as possible, should a new disaster arise. On June 24 he made a hurried visit to the veteran General Scott at West Point, for consultation on the existing military conditions, and on his return to Washington called General Pope from the West, and, by an order dated June 26, specially assigned him to the command of the combined forces under Fremont, Banks, and McDowell, to be called the Army of Virginia, whose duty it should be to guard the Shenandoah valley and Washington city, and, as far as might be, render aid to McClellan's campaign against Richmond.
The very day on which the President made this order proved to be the crisis of McClellan's campaign. That was the day he had fixed upon for a general advance; but so far from realizing this hope, it turned out, also, to be the day on which General Lee began his attack on the Army of the Potomac, which formed the beginning of the seven days' battles, and changed McClellan's intended advance against Richmond to a retreat to the James River. It was after midnight of the next day that McClellan sent Stanton his despairing and insubordinate despatch indicating the possibility of losing his entire army.
Upon the receipt of this alarming piece of news, President Lincoln instantly took additional measures of safety. He sent a telegram to General Burnside in North Carolina to come with all the reinforcements he could spare to McClellan's help. Through the Secretary of War he instructed General Halleck at Corinth to send twenty-five thousand infantry to McClellan by way of Baltimore and Washington. His most important action was to begin the formation of a new army. On the same day he sent Secretary of State Seward to New York with a letter to be confidentially shown to such of the governors of States as could be hurriedly called together, setting forth his view of the present condition of the war, and his own determination in regard to its prosecution. After outlining the reverse at Richmond and the new problems it created, the letter continued:
"What should be done is to hold what we have in the West, open the Mississippi, and take Chattanooga and East Tennessee without more. A reasonable force should in every event be kept about Washington for its protection. Then let the country give us a hundred thousand new troops in the shortest possible time, which, added to McClellan directly or indirectly, will take Richmond without endangering any other place which we now hold, and will substantially end the war. I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsake me; and I would publicly appeal to the country for this new force were it not that I fear a general panic and stampede would follow, so hard it is to have a thing understood as it really is."
Meanwhile, by the news of the victory of Malvern Hill and the secure position to which McClellan had retired at Harrison's Landing, the President learned that the condition of the Army of the Potomac was not as desperate as at first had seemed. The result of Seward's visit to New York is shown in the President's letter of July 2, answering McClellan's urgent call for heavy reinforcements:
"The idea of sending you fifty thousand, or any other considerable force, promptly, is simply absurd. If, in your frequent mention of responsibility, you have the impression that I blame you for not doing more than you can, please be relieved of such impression. I only beg that in like manner you will not ask impossibilities of me. If you think you are not strong enough to take Richmond just now, I do not ask you to try just now. Save the army, material and personnel, and I will strengthen it for the offensive again as fast as I can. The governors of eighteen States offer me a new levy of three hundred thousand, which I accept."
And in another letter, two days later:
"To reinforce you so as to enable you to resume the offensive within a month, or even six weeks, is impossible.... Under these circumstances, the defensive for the present must be your only care. Save the army—first, where you are, if you can; secondly, by removal, if you must."
To satisfy himself more fully about the actual situation, the President made a visit to Harrison's Landing on July 8 and 9, and held personal interviews with McClellan and his leading generals. While the question of removing the army underwent considerable discussion, the President left it undecided for the present; but on July 11, soon after his return to Washington, he issued an order:
"That Major-General Henry W. Halleck be assigned to command the whole land forces of the United States, as general-in-chief, and that he repair to this capital so soon as he can with safety to the positions and operations within the department now under his charge."
Though General Halleck was loath to leave his command in the West, he made the necessary dispositions there, and in obedience to the President's order reached Washington on July 23, and assumed command of all the armies as general-in-chief. On the day following he proceeded to General McClellan's headquarters at Harrison's Landing, and after two days' consultation reached the same conclusion at which the President had already arrived, that the Army of the Potomac must be withdrawn. McClellan strongly objected to this course. He wished to be reinforced so that he might resume his operations against Richmond. To do this he wanted fifty thousand more men, which number it was impossible to give him, as he had already been pointedly informed by the President. On Halleck's return to Washington, it was, on further consultation, resolved to bring the Army of the Potomac back to Acquia Creek and unite it with the army of Pope.