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“II. The second base of operations available for the army of the Potomac is that of the lower Chesapeake bay, which affords the shortest possible land route to Richmond, and strikes directly at the heart of the enemy's power in the east. -
“The roads in that region are passable at all seasons of the year.
“The country now alluded to is much more favorable for offensive operations than that in front of Washington, (which is very unfavorable,) much more level, more cleared land, the woods less dense, the soil more sandy, and the spring some two or three weeks earlier. A movement in force on that line obliges the enemy to abandon his intrenched position at Manassas, in order to hasten to cover Richmond and Norfolk. He must do this; for should he permit us to occupy Richmond, his destruction can be averted only by entirely defeating us in a battle, in which he must be the assailant. This movement, if successful, gives us the capital, the communications, the supplies of the rebels; Norfolk would fall; all the waters of the Chesapeake would be ours; all Virginia would be in our power, and the enemy forced to abandon Tennessee and North Carolina. The alternative presented to the enemy would be, to beat us in a position selected by ourselves, disperse, or pass beneath the Candine forks.
“Should we be beaten in a battle, we have a perfectly secure retreat down
the Peninsula upon Fort Monroe, with our flanks perfectly covered by the fleet. “During the whole movement our left flank is covered by the water. Our right is secure, for the reason that the enemy is too distant to reach us in time; he can only oppose us in front; we bring our fleet into full play. “After a successful battle our position would be—Burnside forming our left— Norfolk held securely—our centre connecting Burnside with Buell, both by Raleigh and Lynchburg—Buell in Eastern Tennessee and North Alabama— Halleck at Nashville and Memphis. “The next movement would be to connect with Sherman on. the left, by reducing Wilmington and Charleston; to advance our centre into South Carolina and Georgia; to push Buell either towards Montgomery, or to unite with the main army in Georgia; to throw Halleck southward to meet the naval expedition from New Orleans. o “We should then be in a condition to reduce at our leisure all the southern seaports; to occupy all the avenues of communication; to use the great outlet of the Mississippi; to re-establish our government and arms in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas; to force the slaves to labor for our subsistence, instead of that of the rebels; to bid defiance to all foreign interference. Such is the object I have ever had in view—this is the general plan which I hope to accomplish. “For many long months I have labored to prepare the army of the Potomac to play its part in the programme; from the day when I was placed in command of all our armies, I have exerted myself to place all the other armies in such a condition that they, too, could perform their allotted duties. “Should it be determined to operate from the lower Chesapeake, the point of landing which promises the most brilliant result is Urbana, on the lower Rappahannock. This point is easily reached by vessels of heavy draught; it is neither occupied nor observed by the enemy—it is but one march from West Point, the key of that region, and thence but two marches to Richmond. A rapid movement from Urbana would probably cut off Magruder in the Peninsula, and enable us to occupy Richmond, before it could be strongly re-enforced. Should we fail in that, we could, with the co-operation of the navy, cross the James and throw ourselves in rear of Richmond, thus forcing the enemy to come out and attack us, for his position would be untenable, with us on the Southern bank of the river. “Should circumstances render it not advisable to land at Urbana, we can use Mobjack bay; or, the worst coming to the worst, we can take Fort Monroe
as a base, and operate with complete security, although with less celerity and brilliancy of results, up the Peninsula. “To reach whatever point may be selected as a base, a large amount of cheap water transportation must be collected, consisting mainly of canal-boats, barges, wood-boats, schooners, &c., towed by small steamers, all of a very different character from those required for all previous expeditions. This can certainly be accomplished within thirty days from the time the order is given. I propose, as the best possible plan that can, in my judgment, be adopted, to select Urbana as a landing place for the first detachments; to transport by water four divisions of infantry with their batteries, the regular infantry, a few wagons, one bridge train and a few squadrons of cavalry, making the vicinity of Hooker's P. the place of embarkation for as many as possible; to move the reguar cavalry and reserve artillery, the remaining bridge trains and wagons, to a point somewhere near Cape Lookout, then ferry them over the river by means of North River ferry-boats, march them over to the Rappahannock, (covering the movement by an infantry force near Heathsville,) and to cross the Rappa. hannock in a similar way. The expense and difficulty of the movement will then be very much diminished, (a saving of transportation of about 10,000 horses,) and the result none the less certain. “The concentration of the cavalry, &c., on the lower counties of Maryland can be effected without exciting suspicion, and the movement made without delay from that cause. “This movement, if adopted, will not at all expose the city of Washington to danger. “The total force to be thrown upon the new line would be, according to circumstances, from 110,000 to 140,000. I hope to use the latter number by bringing fresh troops into Washington, and still leaving it quite safe. I fully realize that in all projects offered, time will probably be the most valuable consideration. It is my decided opinion that, in that point of view, the second plan should be adopted. It is possible, nay, highly probable, that the weather and state of the roads may be such as to delay the direct movement from Washington, with its unsatisfactory results and great risks, far beyond the time required to complete the second plan. In the first case we can fix no definite time for an advance. The roads have gone from bad to worse. Nothing like their present condition was ever known here before; they are impassable at present. We are entirely at the mercy of the weather. It is by no means certain that we can beat them at Manassas. On the other line I regard success as certain by all the chances of war. We demoralize the enemy by forcing him to abandon his prepared position for one which we have chosen, in which all is in our favor, and where success must produce immense results. “My judgment, as a general, is clearly in favor of this project. Nothing is certain in war, but all the chances are in favor of this movement. So much am I in favor of the southern line of operations, that I would prefer the move from Fortress Monroe as a base—as a certain though less brilliant movement than that from Urbana, to an attack upon Manassas. “I know that his excellency the President, you, and I, all agree in our wishes; and that these wishes are, to bring this war to a close as promptly as the means in our possession will permit. I believe that the mass of the people have entire confidence in us—I am sure of it. Let us, then, look only to the great result to be accomplished, and disregard everything else. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, “GEO. B. McCLELLAN, “Major General, Commanding. “Hon. E. M. STANTON, “Secretary of War.”
This letter must have produced some effect upon the mind of the President, since the execution of his order was not required, although it was not revoked as formally as it had been issued. Many verbal conferences ensued, in which, among other things, it was determined to collect as many canal-boats as possible, with a view to employ them largely in the transportation of the army to the lower Chesapeake. The idea was at one time entertained by the President to use them in forming a bridge across the Potomac near Liverpool point, in order to throw the army over that point; but this was subsequently abandoned. It was also found by experience that it would require much time to prepare the canal boats for use in transportation, to the extent that had been anticipated. Finally, on the 27th of February, 1862, the Secretary of War, by the authority of the President, instructed Mr. John Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War, to procure at once the necessary steamers and sailing craft to transport the army of the Potomac to its new field of operations. The following extract from the report of Mr. Tucker, dated April 5, will show the nature and progress of this well-executed service: * >k # # # # # # # #: “I was called to Washington by telegraph, on 17th January last, by Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott. I was informed that Major General McClellan wished to see me. From him I learned that he desired to know if transportation on smooth water could be obtained to move at one time, for a short distance, about 50,000 troops, 10,000 horses, 1,000 wagons, 13 batteries, and the usual equipment of such an army. ' He frankly stated to me that he had always supposed such a movement entirely feasible, until two experienced }. had recently reported it impracticable, in their judgment. A few ays afterwards, I reported to General McClellan that I was entirely confident the transports could be commanded, and stated the mode by which his object could be accomplished. A week or two afterwards I had the honor of an interview with the President and General McClellan, when the subject was further discussed, and especially as to the time required. “I expressed the opinion that, as the movement of the horses and wagons would have to be made chiefly by schooners and barges, that as each schooner would require to be properly fitted for the protection of the horses, and furnished with a supply of water and forage, and each transport for the troops provided with water, I did not deem it prudent to assume that such an expedition could start within thirty days from the time the order was given. “The President and General McClellan both urgently stated the vast importance of an earlier movement. I replied that if favorable winds prevailed, and there was great despatch in loading, the time might be materially diminished. “On the 14th February you (Secretary of War) advertised for transports of various descriptions, inviting bids on the 27th February. I was informed that the proposed movement by water was decided upon. That evening the Quartermaster General was informed of the decision. Directions were given to secure the transportation—any assistance was tendered. He promptly detailed to this duty two most efficient assistants in his department. Colonel Rufus Ingalls was stationed at Annapolis, where it was then proposed to embark the troops, and Captain Henry C. Hodges was directed to meet me in Philadelphia, to attend to chartering the vessels. With these arrangements I left Washington on the 28th February. # # # # # # # # “I beg to hand herewith a statement, prepared by Captain Hodges, of the vessels chartered, which exhibits the prices paid, and parties from whom they were taken:
113 steamers, at an average price per day.............. $215 10 188 schooners, “ 44 “ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 24 45 88 barges, “ 6 & “ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 14 27
H. Ex. Doc. 15—4
“In thirty-seven days from the time I received the order in Washington, (and most of it was accomplished in thirty days,) these vessels transported from Perryville, Alexandria, and Washington to Fort Monroe (the place of departure having been changed, which caused delay,) 121,500 men, 14,592 animals, 1,150 wagons, 44 batteries, 74 ambulances, besides pontoon bridges, telegraph materials, and the enormous quantity of equipage, &c., required for an army of such magnitude. The only loss of which I have heard is eight mules and nine barges, which latter went ashore in a gale within a few miles of Fort Monroe– the cargoes being saved. With this trifling exception, not the slightest accident has occurred, to my knowledge,
“I respectfully, but confidently, submit that, for economy and celerity of
movement, this expedition is without a parallel on record. # # # # >k # # +
“JOHN TUCKER, “Assistant Secretary of War.”
In the mean time the destruction of the batteries on the lower Potomac, by crossing our troops opposite them, was considered, and preparations were even made for throwing Hooker's division across the river, to carry them by assault. Finally, however, after an adverse report from Brigadier General J. G. Barnard, Chief Engineer, given below, who made a reconnoissance of the positions, and in view of the fact that it was still out of the power of the Navy Department to furnish suitable vessels to co-operate with land troops, this plan was abandoned as impracticable. A close examination of the enemy's works and their approaches, made after they were evacuated, showed that the decision was a wise one. The only means, therefore, of accomplishing the capture of these works, so much desired by the President, was by a movement by land, from the left of our lines, on the right bank of the Potomac—a movement obviously unwise. The attention of the Navy Department, as early as August 12, 1861, had been called to the necessity of maintaining a strong force of efficient war vessels on the Potomac. “HEADQUARTERS Division of THE PoToMAC, “Washington, August 12, 1861.
“SIR: I have to-day received additional information which convinces me"that it is more than probable that the enemy will, within a very short time, attempt to throw a respectable force from the mouth of Aquia creek into Maryland. This attempt will probably be preceded by the erection of batteries at Matthias and White House points. Such a movement on the part of the enemy, in connexion with others probably designed, would place Washington in great jeopardy. I most earnestly urge that the strongest possible naval force be at once concentrated near the mouth of Aquia creek, and that the most vigilant watch be maintained day and night, so as to render such passage of the river absolutely impossible.
“I recommend that the Minnesota and any other vessels available from Hampton Roads be at once ordered up there, and that a great quantity of coal be sent to that vicinity, sufficient for several weeks' supply. At least one strong war vessel should be kept at Alexandria, and I again urge the concentration of a strong naval force on the Potomac without delay.
“If the Naval Department will render it absolutely impossible for the enemy to cross the river below Washington, the security of the capital will be greatly increased.
“I cannot too earnestly urge an immediate compliance with these requests.
“I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, “GEORGE B. McCLELLAN, “Major General Commanding. “Hon. GIDEoN WELLEs, “Secretary of the United States Navy.”
It was on the 27th of September, 1861, that General Barnard, Chief Engineer, in company with Captain Wyman of the Potomac flotilla, had been instructed to make a reconnoissance of the enemy's batteries as far as Matthias point. In his report of his observations he says: “Batteries at High point and Cockpit point, and thence down to Chopawampsic, cannot be prevented. We may, indeed, prevent their construction on eertain points, but along here somewhere the enemy can establish, in spite of us, as many batteries as he chooses. What is the remedy? Favorable circumstances, not to be anticipated nor made the basis of any calculations, might justify and render successful the attack of a particular battery. To suppose that we can capture all, and by mere attacks of this kind prevent the navigation being molested, is very much the same as to suppose that the hostile army in our own front can prevent us building and maintaining field-works to protect Arlington and Alexandria by capturing them, one and all, as fast as they are built.” In another communication upon the subject of crossing troops for the purpose of destroying the batteries on the Virginia side of the Potomac, General Barnard says: “The operation involves the forcing of a very strong line of defence of the enemy, and all that we would have to do if we were really opening a campaign against them there. “It is true we hope to force this line by turning it, by landing on Freestone point. With reason to believe that this may be successful, it cannot be denied that it involves a risk of failure. Should we, then, considering all the consequences which may be involved, enter into the operation, merely to capture the Potomac batteries? I think not. Will not the Ericsson, assisted by one other gunboat capable of keeping alongside these batteries, so far control their fire as to keep the navigation sufficiently free as long as we require it? Captain Wyman says yes.” It was the opinion of competent naval officers, and I concur with them, that had an adequate force of strong and well-armed vessels been acting on the Potomac from the beginning of August, it would have been next to impossible for the rebels to have constructed or maintained batteries upon the banks of the river. The enemy never occupied Matthias point, nor any other point on the river, which was out of supporting distance from the main army. When the enemy commenced the construction of these batteries, the army of the Potomac was not in a condition to prevent it. Their destruction by our army would have afforded but a temporary relief unless we had been strong enough to hold the entire line of the Potomac. This could be done either by driving the enemy from Manassas and Aquia creek, by main force, or by manoeuvring to compel them to vacate their positions. The latter course was finally pursued, and with success. About the 20th of February, 1862, additional measures were taken to secure the reopening of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. The preliminary operations of General Lander for this object are elsewhere described. I had often observed to the President and to members of the cabinet that the reconstruction of this railway could not be undertaken until we were in a condition to fight a battle to secure it. I regarded the possession of Winchester and Strasburg as necessary to cover the railway in the rear, and it was not till the month of February that I felt prepared to accomplish this very desirable but not vital purpose. The whole of Banks's division and two brigades of Sedgwick's division were thrown across the river at Harper's Ferry, leaving one brigade of Sedgwick's division to observe and guard the Potomac from Great Falls to the mouth of the Monocacy. A sufficient number of troops of all arms were held in readiness in the vicinity of Washington, either to march via Leesburg or to move by rail