Can Change the World Again.
A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE LATE AMERICAN WAR,
(War of the Confederacy Rebellion of 1861-1865)
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
ADMINISTRATION OF GENERAL G. B. McCLELLAN IN THE DEPARTMENT OF WASHINGTON.
ADMINISTRATION OF GENERAL G. B. McCLELLAN IN THE DEPARTMENT OF WASHINGTON.
THE campaign of Bull Run convinced the Administration of the utter incapacity of General Scott to act as Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the United States in the then existing crisis. Yet, in deference to his former services in the cause of his country, he was not formally superseded until the last of October of that year. In addition to the facts already stated, he was informed, by telegram from Patterson, of the latter's retreat to Charlestown. On the 20th, the day previous to the battle of Bull Run, he was informed, by another telegram from Patterson, that Johnston had actually retired from Winchester to reinforce Beauregard at Manassas. Yet no order was sent to recall McDowell from a battle in which defeat, under the circumstances, was almost certain.
General Scott was, de facto, superseded by the appointment of General George B- McClellan to the supreme command of the department of Washington, then created as preparatory to such appointment. At this time, he found under his immediate command in his department, aside from the depletion of the forces previously there, by desertion, defeat, and the mustering out of the three months' volunteers,-he found under his immediate command, we say, 50,000 infantry, r,000 cavalry, 650 artillery, with 32 field guns. This force was, leaving out of view the army he had left behind him in Western Virginia, that under General Banks in the Shenandoah valley, and under General Butler at Fortress Monroe, more than sufficient to defend the national capital against any force which the Confederates could bring forward to capture the place. It was, indeed, as we shall see, more than twice as large as he proposed to leave for the protection and defence of the same place when he took the army of the Potomac down to the Peninsula. He was, however, left but a few weeks in this condition. On the 15th October he reported, as in and about Washington, at Baltimore, and on the Potomac, within the State of Maryland, an army of 152,051 men, 8,404 of these being absent. With such a force under his command, he repeatedly assured the nation, not that he intended to make any aggressive movements at all, but that he could hold the capital against any force which the Confederates could bring against him. The Confederate General, Johnston, in the meanwhile, was lying in a state of perfect and fearless security at Manassas, with a force under his command amounting to less than 50,000 men. It may be well, as preparatory to future references, to give here the number of the forces present for duty at Manassas and in Northern Virginia under the command of General Johnston. As officially reported to the War Department in Richmond, the number present October 31st, 1861, was 44,131; December 31st it was 62,112; February 28th, 1862, it was 44,617.
NATIONAL SENTIMENT IN REGARD TO GENERAL MCCLELLAN
WHEN HE WAS APPOINTED COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF.
On the 1st November, 1861, General McClellan assumed the command of the armies of the United States. "General McClellan," as Mr. Swinton has well said, "brought to his high trust proofs of talent which, though not sufficient to show him a proper captain of a great army, were yet enough to inspire the best hopes of him. He had served with distinction in Mexico, had studied war in Europe, was in the flower of his youth, and, above all, had just finished a campaign that, by its success amidst elsewhere general failure, seemed to furnish at once the presage and prophecy of victory." Yet, as has been equally well said by Mr. Caville J. Victor, " A greater trust never was confided to a younger man; nor does history show a greater trust reposed in one who had done comparatively so little to prove his fitness for the trust." One fact is undeniable, however, to wit, that no other young or old man was ever advanced to successive high commands with more universal approval of the press and people. All parties approved and applauded his appointment. Nobody enquired to what party he had belonged, or questioned the wisdom of the authorities which advanced him to his high office. In anticipation of what he was to do, he received the cognomen of our "Young Napoleon." For his prompt organization of the army of the Potomac he was justly applauded. His long inaction in all departments under his command was seconded and applauded under the assurance " that he had a plan the development of which would, with absolute certainty, astonish and electrify the nation, and ensure the sudden collapse of the Confederacy." His fickleness in changing his plans; the transfer of the main portion of his great army from the front of the Confederate army, which had retreated from Manassas, to the Peninsula; his stopping four weeks with 130,000 men in front of 10,000 at Yorktown, when any commander of common understanding would, as we shall see, by a flank movement, have captured the place in four days: all these by the Republican press were presented to the country as masterly acts of strategy. Even his disastrous retreat from Chickahominy to Harrison's Landing was represented by the same class of papers as a prudential change of base, from a bad to a good position. Never did the Republican papers cease at all to uphold and eulogize him until his utter want of real capacity as a General became too manifest to be denied, and too calamitous to the nation to be further apologised for or endured.
At a very early period of his command the author of this treatise lost all confidence in our "Young Napoleon." One of the first facts which induced this distrust was an extract from a criticism of his published after his return from Europe, a criticism on the Crimean campaign. The extract referred to went the round of the papers, and was presented as a proof to the nation that we had at the head of our armies a tactician of the very highest order. In the extract, a fundamental error is professedly disclosed in the conduct of that campaign on the part of the Allies. They besieged Sebastopol but upon one side, and that on the side which left the Russians perfectly free to send into the city any munitions of war, reinforcements, and provisions they pleased. Instead of this, as our strategist contended, they should have opened the siege on the other side, cutting off all communications between the empire and city, and thus ensuring the early surrender of the place. Now the prominent characteristic of a great tactician is that, in the presence of great armies, he will readily detect the plans of their respective commanders, comprehend their excellences and defects, and suggest important improvements in said plans. The defect, as I at once saw, in this criticism, was a total misapprehension of the real plan of the Allies, representing its fundamental excellences as essential defects, and presenting in the place of the one that was adopted the very worst that could have been adopted. The real and specific plan of the Allies, and the very best that could have been adopted, was not to capture the city and fortress before them a day earlier than they did. They desired to leave all communications between the place besieged and the Empire which was to defend it, perfectly open. The military authorities which developed the plan of the campaign on the part of the Allies understood perfectly that in the harbour of Sebastopol was the fleet of Russia, the idol of its Emperor; that the city with its harbour was the eye of the Empire looking towards the south and east; and that if besieged in a certain manner, such was the character of Nicholas that he would exhaust the army and treasury of his Empire in its defence. In carrying on the war on this plan, the Allies could convey their armies, munitions, and provisions, by water and rail, directly to the places where they were needed, and that at the least expense possible; while Russia would be necessitated to march her armies, convey all her munitions, materials, and provisions, wholly by land, from the centre of that vast Empire, and over the worst roads in the world. The plan of the Allies, then, as avowed by the French Emperor, was, not to capture Sebastopol at all, but to besiege it in such a form as to exhaust the treasury and military resources of Russia in its defence,-one of the wisest plans known in the history of war, as the results fully demonstrated. In that war Russia lost upwards of 600,000 men,-almost its entire regular army; while the loss of the Allies was but about 150,000. In this war, also, the treasury of the Empire became so exhausted that its credit was gone; while the expense of the Allies was so small as not to burden the nations which entered into the alliance. Russia, almost without an army or credit, was necessitated to sue for peace, and accept it on the terms which the Allies proposed. Had the plan proposed by our tactician been adopted, Sebastopol would indeed have been soon captured, and the Allies have been necessitated to prosecute the war at a great distance in the interior, where the power of Russia would have been far greater than theirs. Two fundamental defects, as a consequence, became manifest to my mind in the criticism under consideration-an utter failure to comprehend the plan which he criticised, and the presentation, as an essential improvement of that which could not have been improved, of the very worst that could have been devised. In view of such facts, I at once located our Commander-in-Chief among fourth-rate tacticians. If I should suggest my honest judgment of General McClellan and his successor General Halleck, as leaders of great armies, I should say that they never evinced any capacity in planning campaigns but to blunder, and that they never blundered upon a plan that ought to have been adopted. Whether this impression is or is not correct will be rendered fully manifest in the sequel.
FUNDAMENTAL DEFECTS IN GENERAL McCLELLAN, AS THE
LEADER OF A GREAT ARMY.
It may help the reader to comprehend more perfectly than otherwise the facts to be hereafter presented, if we stop here and consider some of the essential defects of our Commander-in-Chief, as the leader of great armies. One of the most prominent peculiarities of a great commander is an ability to determine, from facts which he can gather, the amount of forces in the army opposed to him. On such points such commanders seldom err. On a particular occasion, for example, Buonaparte saw a small body of men take a position in his front, and remarked to his staff that there was an army of 60,000 men advancing to that position. The facts turned out to be just as he stated. The manner in which that small body took position revealed to the discerning eye of the great Emperor the precise amount of the advancing army. Now one of the fixed peculiarities of General McClellan was an amazing overestimate of the number, discipline, and furnishment of the army opposed to him. In his official report, given March 8th, 1862, he puts the number of the Confederate forces at Manassas and in Northern Virginia at 115,500, when the entire number as revealed from official sources, as affirmed by all Confederate and by English officers visiting Confederate armies, and the avowed opinions of the best informed generals in our army,-that number was
less than 50,000. When he arrived at the Chickahominy, he sent a message to the President saying that the army opposed to him was quite as numerous as his own, and would fight well. He always laboured under a similar delusion in regard to the discipline, equipment, and provisions of the hostile forces. As his fixed maxim was never to fight a battle without the consciousness of overwhelming odds on his side, and as in the presence of an enemy his imagination always presented the opposing force as greater and better disciplined and provided than his own, his great skill consisted in avoiding general and decisive engagements, and hence he never brought anything important to pass.
Another essential defect in our "Young Napoleon" is what may be called self-distrustdistrust of his own plans after they had been adopted and partially executed. We state this from a leading officer in the Potomac army, and one of the most ardent admirers of General McClellan. He would adopt a plan, said this officer, as, of all others conceivable, the very best, and with great energy would enter upon its prosecution. At length, as difficulties accumulated upon him, he would think of some other and now impracticable plan. In the light of the new suggestion the defects in the existing plan would become more and more palpable to his mind, until the sentiment of distrust would become so overpowering that he would be utterly unable to arrange or order any decisive movement. Such was his mental state, when he saw the difficulties before and around him, when he had lain for a time with his army on the Chickahominy. He here saw how much better it would have been to have moved his great army at Washington, in front of the enemy on the Rappahannock, and with his right wing reinforced, flanking them by a movement down the valley of the Shenandoah. Hence, he remained in palsied inaction until his disastrous retreat to Harrison's Landing. No nation can be more unfortunate than one whose armies are under such leaders as this.
We mention but one other serious defect in General McClellan as the leader of a great army. We refer to his overestimate of the necessity of universal and absolute readiness and order, as the condition, sine qua non, of moving a great army. This characteristic of our General was thus presented to us by a distinguished United States senator. The fixed rule in the army is that each wheel of each army-waggon shall have an extra linch pin. If General McClellan should learn on the eve of a great advance that a single wheel of a single waggon lacked the required pin, he would stop his whole army for ten days, if that were necessary, to have the deficiency supplied. Hence it was that he was never ready to make an important movement. He could not obey an absolute order from the Commander-in-Chief to move his army across the Potomac, because he had just discovered that out of upwards of 90,000, some 10,000 of his men were not adequately shod. Hence it is that but for the absolute command of the supreme authorities nobody can divine when our army would have been moved from before Washington. The above characteristics will throw light upon all our campaigns which were conducted under the lead of General McClellan. Before proceeding further in our criticisms of the administration of our youthful commander, we will now devote a short chapter to noticing some important events which were at this time transpiring in Missouri in the department of General Fremont.