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CLOSE OP McCLELLAN'S CAREER: BURNSIDE'S CAMPAIGN: BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG.
Views and plans of Gen. McClellan — Halleck's telegram ordering an advance — McClellan's delays and reasons therefor — Stuart's cavalry raid into Pennsylvania — Public impatience — President Lincoln's letter—McClellan advances into Virginia — Position of Lee's forces — McClellan's plan — Suddenly removed — Remarks upon the close of McClellan's career — Estimate of his character and conduct — Gen. Buinsido assumes the command on the 10th of November — Change of plan — Determines to advance by way ot Fiedericksburg — President Lincoln's order on observance of the Lord's Day in the army and navy—Army marches to Falmouth on the Rappahannock — Bumside's unwise delay — Doubts as to where to cross — Plan to cross at Skenker's Neck, below Fredericksburg —Burnside resolves to cross at tho town, and surprise the rebels — Attempts to build pontoon bridges — Rebel sharpshooters — Bombardment of Fredericksburg — Sharpshooters dislodged — The town occupied, December 11th — Arrangements for the battle — Plan adopted — Sumner's attack on the right wing — Impregnable position of Lee's army — Hooker's final attempt —Total failure — Terrible loss on our side — The army recross the Rappahannock — Burnsido's letter respecting the battle — Resting, repairing losses, etc. — Morale of the Army of the Potomac much depreciated — Burnskle's further attempts — Displaced from the command — Succeeded by Hooker.
Gen. Mcclellan, as we have seen (p. 233), did not deem it expedient to advance against Lee immediately after the battle of Antietam, on the 17th of September. In his view, the army required rest, refitting, supplies, etc. In addition, as he telegraphed to Halleck, September 22d, further steps ought to be taken for the improvement of the army at the earliest possible moment. His plan was to retain his forces on the north bank of the river, render Harper's Ferry secure, and watch the movements of the enemy until the rise of the Potomac should render a new invasion of Maryland impracticable; when, as it appeared advantageous, he might move on Wines' o
Chester, or devote a reasonable time to the organization of the army and instruction of the new troops preparatory to an advance. On the 1st of October,,
President Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac, in the vicinity of Harper's Feny, and had an opportunity of reviewing the troops and going over the battle grounds of South Mountain and Antietam. He spent several days in this wise, and afforded McClellan a good opening for explaining and defending his delay in following up Lee and his army. Probably, Mr. Lincoln was not much impressed by McClel lan's reasoning; for immediately on his return to Washington, he insisted upon the commanding general's displaying greater activity and euergy. Under date of October 6th, Halleck sent a telegram of a peremptory sort > "I am instructed to telegraph you as follows: The president directs that you cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy, or drive him south. Youi army must move now, while the roads
are good. It you cross the river between the enemy and Washington, and cover the latter by your operation, you can be reinforced with 30,000 men. If you move up the Valley of the Shenandoah, not more than twelve or fifteen thousand can be sent you."
The next day, McClellan, in reply to the above, expressed his preference for the line of the Shenandoah for immediate operations against the enemy, and his determination to advance, as soon as possible, upon Winchester. It afforded greater facilities, he thought, for supplying the army, and to abandon it would be, in his judgment, to leave Maryland uncovered for another invasion.
The great practical difficulty in the way was, the obtaining supplies and equipments as fast as they were needed. McClellan kept calling for them day after day, and, as he asserts, could not get them as they were wanted. He was utterly unwilling to move, till his cavalry force was in a good working condition,* and till the army generally was furnished in such wise as to render it safe to advance into Virginia. Altogether, from one cause and another, wherein it was hard to tell on whom the blame properly rested, nearly the whole month passed away before these troublesome matters were arranged, in any respect, to McClellan's satisfaction.
Meanwhile, the rebel General Stuart signalized his ability and skill by a
* On the 25th of October, McClellan having complained that the horses he had were not in good working condition, Mr. Lincoln wroto a brief and rather sharp note, as follows: " I have just read your dispatch about sore tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon ine for asking what the horses of your army have done ance the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?"
cavalry raid into Pennsylvania, not unlike the one previously carried through by him on the Peninsula (see p. 197). On the 10th of October, Stuart, with some 1,800 men and four pieces of artillery, crossed the Potomac at McCoy's Ford near Williamsport, passed through Maryland, advanced upon and occupied Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and destroyed all the government property within reach. Turning eastwardly, he entered Maryland at Emmetsburg, and thence by Frederick he marched to Poolesville, on the 12th of October. Some slight skirmishing occurred here, with the advance of Gen. Pleasanton's cavalry force, which had marched in pursuit seventy-eight miles in twentyfour hours; but, Stuart passed on without the loss of a man. Having made the entire circuit of our army, he recrossed the Potomac below the mouth of the Monocacy. The special prize gained by Stuart, was some 800 to 1,000 horses, which were seized upon at and near Chambersburg.
This daring raid stirred up afresh the public impatience of delay, and McClellan was urged, by both Halleck and President Lincoln, to bestir himself and attack the rebels. The latter wrote a long, characteristic letter to McClellan, dated Oct. 13th, containing mingled advice and expostulation, and furnishing the commanding general with various suggestions of a military description, which showed that Mr. Lincoln thought himself quite competent to give direction in his constitutional position as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, such direction too, as was not to be neglected.
Pressed by these urgent demands on all hands for action, McClellan determined to execute the proposed movement on the east of the Blue Ridge. Accordingly, on the 26th of October, the army commenced crossing the Potomac by a pontoon bridge at Berlin, five miles below Harper's Ferry. Pleasanton took the lead with a body of cavalry, and was followed by the corps of Burnside. A sufficient garrison having been left at Harper's Ferry, Sedgwick and Hancock in the lower part of the Shenandoah Valley, about Charlestown, pressed the enem)r, who now began their retreat towards Richmond. The Union forces occupied the passes of the Blue Ridge. Snicker's Gap was taken possession of by Hancock, on the 2d of November, while Pleasanton, with his cavalry, was driving the enemy beyond. The last corps of the army was over the Potomac on the 5th of November, and on the 6th, the advance was at Warrenton, General McClellan holding his headquarters at Rectortown, on the Manassas Gap Railroad.
The movement thus far, spite of the inclemency of the weather, promised to be successful to a high degree; for, on reaching Warrenton, on the 9th of November, while Lee had sent half of his army forward to Culpepper to oppose McClellan's advance in that quarter, the other half was still west of the Blue Ridge, and at least two days' march distant. McClellan's plan, in this state of affairs, was to march across, obliquely westward, and get between the severed portious of the rebel force, and strike a decisive and fatal blow. It seems not unreasonable to suppose
that, had he been permitted to cany out his plan, he would have gained an important victory; but this was not allowed. The directors of military affairs at Washington had no liking tbi McClellan, neither had McClellan any love to spare for them, and they resolved to displace him as speedily as possible. This was brought about just at this critical moment. Late on the night of November 7th, in the midst of a heavy snow storm, Gen. Buckingham, post-haste from Washington, reached McClellan's headquarters at Rectortown. He was charged with a dispatch, dated Nov. 5th, which read as follows: "By the direction of the President of the United States, it is ordered, that Major-General McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Major-Gen. Burnside take command of that army."
Burnside and other generals were in McClellan's tent at the time. Opening the dispatch and reading it, without a change of countenance or of voice, he passed the paper over to his successor, and simply said, " Well, Burnside, you are to command the army." In addition to the dispatch, McClellan received orders from Halleck to betake himself immediately to Trenton, New Jersey) reporting on his arrival, by telegraph, and waiting for further orders. In a few days, he bade farewell to the officers and soldiers, and repairing to the North, retired from the stage of action, and from all further connection with the struggle of loyal men to crush the rebellion.
It is not easy, in a brief space, to do justice to Gen. McClellan, or to define
exactly the position which he holds, or ought to hold, in the history of our great national struggle. It was his misfortune to have been extravagantly and foolishly lauded. Zealous but not overwise admirers have attributed to him every quality of nobleness and greatness, and they have striven to place him on an equal footing with the greatest generals of ancient or modern times. On the other hand, he has been loudly and persistently decried; all merit has been denied to him; and he has been spoken of in the vilest terms. It has been asserted, that he possesses no ability; that he is deficient in personal courage; and that, having no sympathy with the cause of loyalty, he has all along secretly wished and hoped for the success of the rebellion.
In this, as in other cases, no doubt both extremes are to be avoided. Gen. McClellan unquestionably possessed qualities of a high order for a military career, but not necessarily of the very highest. He displayed superior generalship and ability, on more than one occasion, which entitled him to rank high in the profession of arms; but it is evident that he lacked, at critical moments, the fiery energy and dashing boldness of the great heroes in military annals. Personally, he was very popular with the army, and certainly he had a 186a remarkable faculty of attaching men to him, and leading them to put entire faith and trust in him; but he was not in favor with the officials at Washington; he was thwarted in his plans; subjected to mean and petty annoyances; criticised by committees of Congress, who were desirous
to have a hand in the conduct of the war; and he was denounced by an influential portion of the press, as too cautious and too slow in his movements, and as wanting in needful efficiency and activity.
In submitting his Official Report to the war department, which was made, August 4th, 1863, nine months after his removal, and which he styles a "plain and truthful narrative," McClellan has sought to place matters in which he was concerned in such a light as to disarm hostile criticism towards himself, and justify his conduct and principles while in command of the Army of the Potomac, and also to set before his countrymen that brave body of men as one of the noblest organizations ever made, and as entitled to a position "high on the roll of the historic armies of the world."
The reader who has carefully examined the pages of the present volume, in which we have given a narrative of Gen. McClellan's campaigns, and his relations to the army and the government authorities at Washington, will have no difficulty in arriving at what -we think a fair and just estimate of his character and career. We have narrated the events and connections of the war as fully as our limits admit, and with an earnest endeavor to arrive at and state frankly the truth. If we have succeeded in our endeavor, it will appear that McClellan, while filling large space in the history of the war in Virginia, and while displaying ability of a high order, did not accomplish all that he might have accomplished—all that he might to have accomplished, despite the difficulties and hindrances and annoyances to which he was subjected. We believe him to have been sincere, and desirous to do his duty to the country in the work entrusted to him; but we cannot pronounce with satisfaction ipon his success. We admit the adverse influences against him, and make all due allowances therefor; but we caunot escape the conviction, that he was not the man for the momentous crisis in our history; he was lacking in those essential qualities which a struggle such as ours imperatively demanded.
In the lapse of time, history may place a different estimate upon George B. McClellan, and rank him more highly in its' records; but, so far as we can now see, he must hold substantially the position we have assigned to him, and must be content to be judged by what he has left undone quite as much as by what he has done.*
It was an ungracious moment, to say the least, that was taken for the removal of McClellan; it showed a degree of spitefulness in the authorities at Washington to choose this particular time for dismissing him, when, as he asserts," the army being renovated and refreshed, in good order and discipline, and confident of a decisive victory, while his advance guard was actually in contact with the enemy, he was removed from
* Mr. Swinton, in his criticism, says that "he was assuredly not a great general;" he was a better strategist than a tactician; and "if he does not belong to that foremost category of commanders made up of those who have always been successful, and including but a few illustrious names, neither does he rank with that numerous class who have ruined their armies without fighting." — "Army of the Potomac," pp. 228-9.
the command." Gen. Burnside, his suesessor, was reluctant to accept the position virtually forced upon him. He was not only a warm friend and admirer of McClellan, but he was clearly of the opinion that the command ought not to have been taken from McClellan. In his judgment, "McClellan could command the Army of the Potomac better than any other general in it."
Yielding, however, to a sense of duty, Burnside acquiesced in the wishes 01 the government, and prepared at once to enter upon the difficult task before him. On the 10th of November, he issued an address to the troops, and the public were led to expect im
portant and decisive results. The new commander did not attempt to carry out McClellan's plan, which was, by a rapid advance on Gordonsville, to interpose between Lee's divided forces and beat them in detail. He preferred endeavoring to take his army to Richmond by way of Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock, and on consulting with Halleck, who made him a visit in camp, he fixed upon his course of operations. While delaying some ten days at Warrenton, his headquarters, Burnside reorganized the Army of the Potomac by consolidating the six corps into three grand divisions of two corps each; the right grand divi sion being placed under Sumner, the centre under Hooker, and the left under Franklin. With this arrangement of his troops, Burnside prepared to carry out his purpose, and make a change of base to Fredericksburg. In order to cross the river at this place, he called, at