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Gen. McClellan, as previously stated (see p. 45), on the call of the government, proceeded at once to Washington, and entered upon the work of no light magnitude, in the existing crisis. "I found," he says, in a letter to the secretary of war, "no army to command; a mere collection of regiments cowering on the banks of the Potomac, some perfectly raw, others dispirited by the recent defeat (at Bull Run). Nothing of any consequence had been done to secure the southern approaches to the capital, by means of defensive works; nothing whatever had been undertaken to defend the avenues to the city on the northern side of the Potomac. The troops were not only undisciplined, undrilled and dispirited; they were not even placed in military positions. The city was almost in a condition to have been taken by a dash of a regiment of cavalry."*
Gen. McClellan came to his work with much prestige, and great things were expected of him on all hands. He began by enforcing military discipline in the camps at the capital, issuing an order to this effect, July 30th; officers of all grades were required to be at their posts and attend to their duties; and a board was appointed for examination of the officers of volunteer regiments. Congress, as we have seen, authorized the president to call for 500,000 volunteers; and the loyal states nobly responded to the call. The lesson of the defeat at Bull Run was now
* "Report of Gen. George B. McClellan upon the Organization of the Army of tho Potomac, and its Campaigns in Virginia and Maryland, from July 26th, 1801, to November 7th, 1863."
beginning to be learned and appreciated
The government, as well as the people, were disposed to regard Gen. McClellan, though comparatively a young man (born, 1826), as worthy of almost unlimited confidence; and he was eulogized, for a time, in terms which formed a painful contrast to subsequent exhibitions of popular feeling. On the 20th of August, he formally entered upon command of the Army of the Potomac, which, as at that time constituted, comprised the troops serving in the former departments of Washington and North-eastern Virginia, in the valley of the Shenandoah, and in the states of Maryland and Delaware.*
At the president's request, McClellan prepared a paper, which he called a "Memorandum," and on the 4th of August, submitted it to Mr. Lincoln. A jiasoage or two may be quoted as giving the views of one who was en
* On the 6th of September, the following order was issued: "The Major-general commanding desires and requests that in future there may be a more perfect respect for the Sabbath on tho part of his command. We are fighting in a holy cause, and should endeavor to deserve the benign favor of the Creator. Unless in the caso of an attack by the enemy, or some other extreme military necessity, it is commended to commanding officers, that all work shall bo suspended on the Sabbath; that no unnecessary movements shall be made on that day; that the men shall, as far as possible, be permitted to rest from their labors; that they shall attend Divine service after the customary Sunday morning inspection, and that officers and men shall alike use their influence to insure the utmost detorum and quiet on that day. The General commanding regards this as no idle form. One day's rest in seven is necessary to men and animals. More than this, the observance of the Holy Day of tho God of mercy and of battles is our sacred duty." At a later date (Nov. 27th), this order was directed to take effect in all the camp? of the United States Army.
trusted with the important and responsible position of commanding-general, and who, at this early period of the struggle, seemed to have entertained a strong conviction of the powers of resistance possessed by the rebels.
"The object of the present war differs from those in which nations are engaged, mainly in this: that the purpose of ordinary war is to conquer a peace, and make a treaty on advantageous terms; in this contest it has become necessary to crush a population sufficiently numerous, intelligent, and warlike to constitute a nation. We have not only to defeat their armed and organized forces in the field, but to display such an overwhelming strength as will convince all our antagonists, especially those of the governing aristocratic class, of the utter impossibility of resistance. Our late reverses make this course imperative. When we have re
organized our main army here, 10,000 men ought to be enough to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Potomac, 5,000 will garrison Baltimore, 3,000 Fort Monroe, and not more than - 20,000 will be necessary at | the utmost for the defence of Washingj ton. For the main army of operations I I urge the following composition: 250 regiments of infantry, say 225,000 men; 100 field batteries, 600 guns, 15,000 men; 28 regiments of cavalry, 25,500; 5 regiments of engineer troops, 7,500; total, 273,000. This force must be supplied with the necessary engineer and pontoon trains, and with transportation
for ever}' thing save tents
The force I have recommended is large; the expense is great. It is possible
that a smaller force might accomplish the object in view, but I understand it to be the purpose of this great nation to re-establish the power of its government, and restore peace to its citizens,
in the shortest possible time
Every mile we advance carries us further from our base of operations, and renders detachments necessary to cover our communications, while the enemy will be constantly concentrating as he falls back. I propose, with the force which I have requested, not only to drive the enemy out of Virginia and occupy Richmond, but to occupy Charleston, Savannah, Montgomer3r, Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans; in other words, to move into the heart of the enemy's country and crush the rebellion in its very heart."
For several months, McClellan was busily engaged in getting the Army of the Potomac into shape, and in rendering it fit for active operations. The new levies were recruited and pressed forward with great rapidity; arms and equipments were manufactured and supplied as fast as possible; and the general voice of the people, full of patriotism and sanguine of success, was in favor of immediate advance.
As the army gained strength and greater adaptedness for the work before it, the rebels, who seem to have been kept well supplied, by spies and traitors, with information in respect to matters in and about Washington, called in their advanced pickets, and seasonably retired from their posts of observation near the capital, and from our powerful force gathered there. A grand review of artillery and cavalry was held on the 8th of October; it was an imposing affair, and seemed to furnish evidence of the spirit and energy of the army, and its capability soon to march against the enemy. There were 6,000 cavalry and 112 guns, with an artillery force of 1,500 men; and the president and other celebrities were, present.
At the close of October, McClellan submitted a " statement of the condition of the army under his command, and the measures required for the preservation of the government and the suppression of the rebellion." In this statement, inferring from what had been learned through spies, prisoners, etc., that the rebels had a force on the Potomac not less than 150,000 strong, well drilled and equipped, ably commanded and strongly entrenched,* McClellan expressed his opinion that the army was not powerful enough to advance with any prospect of success. Holding, too, that the salvation of the country depended on the army he was commanding, he was indisposed to move until he had, beside 150,000 men for advance, some 60,000 more for garrison and guard duty, and until he had 200 more guns at least, and everything else requisite. The actual force at this date (October 27th) he stated, was only 76,000 fit for an advance, and about 200 guns. Possibly, he thought, the army might, by special, persistent effort, assume, this present season, offensive operations; and in his judgment, the advance ought not to
* This number was greatly exaggerated, as we now know, since the rebel force in Virginia at this date amounted to less than 70,000 men ; in drill and discipline the rebels were also far inferior to McClellan's army.
be postponed beyond Nov. 25th, or a few weeks from the date at which he was writing.
During the. summer there were various exhibitions of violent angry feeling at the North, in attacks upon some newspaper offices and editors who sympathized with, and tried to advo cate, the cause of secession and rebei lion. The grand jury of the United States Circuit Court, sitting in New York, presented several papers as " disloyal presses," " encouraging the rebels," and injuring the interests of the Union. The government sanctioned this view of the subject, and held that the neces sities of the case required some limit to be placed on the present unbounded, licentious freedom of the press. This same plea of necessity was put forth to justify the numerous arrests of persons of influence, who were suspected of disloyalty, or known to be rendering assistance, in different ways, to the rebel machinations against the govern ment; and it was ably, if not satisfactorily, argued, that these and all persons acting in a hostile manner, open or secret, to the lawful authority of the land, must be arrested, and restrained by the supreme executive of the United States*
On the 14th of October, a circular was issued by the government, directed to the governors of the northern states on the seaboard and lakes; and atten tion was asked to the improvement
* Nearly 200 persons were committed to Fort Lafayette during the three months from July to October, 1861. For a discussion of the " War Powers under the Constitution of the United States," see the volume with this title, by WJliam Whiting, Esq., Solicitor of the War Depigment; pp. 342
and completion of the defences of the loyal states at the earliest moment. The ground taken was, that though the rebel efforts had not succeeded abroad to the extent they desired, yet they were very active; and it was "necessary now, as it has hitherto been, to take every precaution that is possible to avoid the evils of foreign war, to be superinduced upon those of civil commotion, which we are endeavoring to cure."
Gen. Banks, as stated on a previous page (see p. 56), having superseded Gen. Patterson, at the close of July, our troops evacuated Harper's Ferry, and crossed the Potomac again. This course seemed needful in view of the outlying enemy in Virginia Various skirmishes took place during the summer, generally with marked success on the part of our troops. On the 16th of October, Col. Geary, with about 600 men, who had been seizing upon
1961. ■, or
some 20,000 bushels of wheat a few miles above Harper's Ferry, was attacked by the rebels at Bolivar Heights. The assault was very spirited; but our men, after a few hours' fighting, gained a complete victory.
Early in October, Gen. McClellan ordered a reconnaissance to ascertain the enemy's strength on the right, in the neighl orhood of the Potomac. Gen. Stone, having his headquarters at Poolesville, was within easy striking distance of Conrad's and Edwards' Ferries, which, some four miles from one another, afforded the means of crossing the Potomac at this part of its course. Intermediate between the two femes was Harrison's Island, about
two hundred yards in width and three miles in length, unequally dividing the stream between the two shores. Conrad's Ferry was at the upper end of the Island. The river was much swollen by the autumnal rains, having risen, in a few days, some ten or more feet above the fording point.
Gen. McCall, in accordance with instructions, moved forward, on the 19th of October, and occupied Dranesville, seventeen miles west of Washington, in Fairfax county, Virginia. This being accomplished, Gen. McClellan sent a dispatch to Gen. Stone, informing him of McCall's purposed reconnaissances, in all directions, against the enemy, and adding: "The general desires that you keep a good lookout upon Leesburg, to see if this movement has the effect to drive them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them." On receiving this from Gen. McClellan, Stone began at once a movement which resulted, next day, in the disaster at Ball's Bluff. He proceeded, early in the afternoon of the 20th, with Gorman's brigade and some companies of troops, to Edwards' Ferry. He ordered Col. Devens, of the 15th Massachusetts, to ferry over his regiment to Harrison's Island, using some flat boats from the canal for this purpose. At the same time, he ordered to Conrad's Ferry, Col. Lee's battalion, of the 20th Massachusetts, and other regiments from Rhode Island and New York. Several additional regiments, including Col. Baker's California regiment, numbering in all about 3,000 men, were left as a reserve a few miles in the rear.
A small body of the enemy appearing in the direction of Leesburg, Gorman was ordered to dsploy his forces in their view, a feint being made of crossing, and shell and shot being discharged from the battery into the place of the enemy's concealment. Three boat loads, about thirty-five in each, crossed and recrossed the river in trips occupying six or seven minutes. At dusk, Gorman's brigade and the Michigan troops returned to camp. The other forces at Harrison's Island and Conrad's Ferry remained in position. Late in the afternoon, Stone sent to McClellan a dispatch, in which, beside what has just been related, he spoke of his means of transportation at hand. "I have means," he said, "of crossing 125 men once in 10 minutes at each of two points. River falling slowly."
At ten P.m. word was brought to Gen. Stone at Edwards' Ferry, that Captain Philbrick, of the 13th Massachusetts, who conducted the reconnoitring party, sent out about dark by Col. Devens, had returned to Harrison's Island, having been within a mile of Leesburg, and discovered, as he thought, a small encampment of the enemy. Immediately, Stone issued special orders to Col. Devens to cross over and surprise the rebels; Col. Lee was ordered to Harrison's Island with his force to cover Devens's return; and Col. Baker was directed to take his California regiment and be at Conrad's Ferry at sunrise. These orders were duly received, and Col. Devens with 650 men reached the top of the bluff at daylight. On advancing, the rebel camp was found to have no existence; Lee halted in a
wood, and sent for further orders. About seven A.m. on the 21st of October. some riflemen and cavalrj appeared on the road to Leesburg; whereupon Devens, about an hour later, fell back towards the bluff, where he was directed by Gen. Stone to remain, with the assurance of being supported. About noon, he was attacked by musketry from the woods and fell back some sixty yards, to obtain a better position; and again, at one o'clock, he retired still nearer the bluff, where soon after reinforcements arrived
Colonel Baker, who had now reached the Virginia shore, had been roused up at two o'clock, A.m., and speedily got his brigade ready for a march to Conrad's Ferry. Here, the means of crossing to Harrison's Island were anything but sufficient, and the means of getting from the island to the shore across the rapid, swollen current were still worse. A narrow and difficult ascent also led to the bluff and the field where Col Devens and his men now were. Hence, after a most tedious and vexatious passage, it was between one and two o'clock in the afternoon, instead of six hours earlier, when Col. Baker reached the scene of action, probably the worst position which could have been contrived for our men, and dangerous in the extreme. Colonel Baker took command, having, all told, 1,900 men, while the enemy, in large numbers, were posted securely in the thick woods. He had had left to his discretion by Stone, to reinforce or withdraw Devens's men: but, as before he arrived the attack had begun, he concluded to fight, even at so fatal a disadvantage.