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The land movement obliged me to expose my right in order to secure the junction; and as the order for General McDowell's march was soon countermanded, I incurred great risk, of which the enemy finally took advantage, and frustrated the plan of campaign. Had General McDowell joined me by water, I could have approached Richmond by the James, and thus avoided the delays and losses incurred in bridging the Chickahominy, and would have had the army massed in one body instead of being necessarily divided by that stream. The following is a copy of the instructions to General McDowell :
“ Washington, May 17, 1862. “GENERAL: Upon being joined by General Shields's division, you will move upon Richmond by the general route of the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroad, co-operating with the forces under General McClellan, now threatening Richmond from the line of the Pamunkey and York rivers. .“While seeking to establish as soon as possible a communication between your left wing and the right wing of General McClellan, you will hold yourself always in such position as to cover the capital of the nation against a sudden dash of any large body of the rebel forces.
"General McClellan will be furnished with a copy of these instructions, and will be directed to hold himself in readiness to establish communication with your left wing, and to prevent the main body of the enemy's army from leaving Richmond, and throwing itself upon your column, before a junction of the two armies is effected.
“A copy of his instructions in regard to the employment of your force is annexed. . “By order of the President.
“EDWIN M. STANTON,
“ Secretary of War. “General McDUWELL,
“ Commanding Department of Rappahannock." Having some doubts, from the wording of the foregoing orders, as to the extent of my authority over the troops of General McDowell, and as to the time when I might anticipate his arrival, on the 21st of May I sent this despatch:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, “ Camp near Tunstall's Station, Virginia, May 21, 1862—11 p. m. “ Your despatch of yesterday, respecting our situation and the batteries of Fort Darling, was received while I was absent with the advance, where I have been all this day. I have communicated personally with Captain Goldsborough, and by letter with Captain Smith. The vessels can do nothing without co-operation on land, which I will not be in condition to afford for several days. Circumstances must determine the propriety of a land attack
“It rained again last night, and rain on this soil soon makes the roads incredibly bad for army transportation. I personally crossed the Chickahominy to-day at Bottom's bridge ford, and went a mile beyond, the enemy being about half a mile in front. I have three regiments on the other bank guarding the re-building of the bridge. Keyes's corps is on the New Kent road, near Bottom's bridge. Heintzelman is on the same road, within supporting distance. Sumner is on the railroad, connecting right with left. Stoneman, with advanced guard, is within one mile of New bridge. Franklin, with two divisions, is about two miles this side of Stoneman. Porter's division, with the reserves of infantry and artillery, is within supporting distance. Headquarters will probably be at Coal Harbor to-morrow, one mile this side of Franklin. All the bridges over the Chickahominy are destroyed. The enemy are in force on every road lead
H. Ex. Doc. 157
ing to Richmond, within a mile or two west of the stream. Their main body is on the road from New bridge, encamped along it for four or five miles, spreading over the open ground on both sides. Johnston's headquarters are about two miles beyond the bridge.
"All accounts report their numbers as greatly exceeding our own. The position of the rebel forces, the declaration of the confederate authorities, the resolutions of the Virginia legislature, the action of the city government, the conduct of the citizens, and all other sources of information accessible to ind, give positive assurance that our approach to Richmond involves a desperate battle between the opposing armies.
“ All our divisions are moving towards the foe. I shall advance steadily and carefully, and attack them according to my best judgment, and in such manner as to employ my greatest force.
“ I regret the state of things as to General McDowell's command. We must beat the enemy in front of Richmond. One division added to this army for that effort would do more to protect Washington than his whole force can possibly do anywhere else in the field. The rebels are concentrating from all points for the two battles at Richmond and Corinth. I would still, most respectfully, suggest the policy of our concentrating here by movements on water. I have heard nothing as to the probabilities of the contemplated junction of McDowell's force with mine. I have no idea when he can start, what are his means of transportation, or when he may be expected to reach this vicinity. I fear there is little hope that he can join me over land in time for the coming battle. Delays on my part will be dangerous. If ar sickness and demoralization. This region is unhealthy for northern men, and unless kept moving, I fear that our soldiers may become discouraged. At present our numbers are weakening from disease, but our men remain in good heart.
“I regret also the configuration of the department of the Rappahannock. It includes a portion even of the city of Richmond. I think that my own department should embrace the entire field of military operations designed for the capture and occupation of that city.
“ Again, I agree with your excellency that one bad general is better than two good ones.
“I am not sure that I fully comprehend your orders of the 17th instant addressed to myself and General McDowell. If a junction is effected before we occupy Richmond, it must necessarily be east of the railroad to Fredericksburg and within my department. This fact, my superior rank, and the express language of the 62d article of war, will place his command under my orders, unless it is otherwise specially directed by your excellency; and I consider that he will be under my command, except that I am not to detach any portion of his forces, or give any orders which can put him out of position to cover Washington. If I err in my construction, I desire to be at once set right. Frankness compels me to say, anxious as I am for an increase of force, that the march of McDowell's column upon Richmond by the shortest route will, in my opinion, uncover Washington, as to any interposition by it, as completely as its movement by water. The enemy cannot advance by Fredericksburg on Washington.
“ Should they attempt a movement, which to me seems utterly improbable, their route would be by Gordonsville and Manassas. I desire that the extent of my authority over McDowell may be clearly defined, lest misunderstandings and conflicting views may produce some of those injurious results which a divided command has so often caused. I would respectfully suggest that this danger can only be surely guarded against by explicitly placing General McDowell under my orders in the ordinary way, and holding me strictly responsible for the closest observance of your instructions. I hope, Mr. President, that it is not necessary for me to assure you that your instructions would be observed
in the utmost good faith, and that I have no personal feelings which could influence me to disregard them in any particular.
“I believe that there is a great struggle before this army, but I am neither dismayed nor discouraged. I wish to strengthen its force as much as I can, but in any event I shall fight it with all the skill, caution, and determination that I possess, and I trust that the result may either obtain for me the permanent confidence of my government, or that it may close my career.
“GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN,
“ Major General Commanding. “ His Excellency ABRAHAM LINCOLN,
“ President of the United States."
On the 24th I received the following reply :
“MAY 24, 1862.—(From Washington, 24th.) “I left General McDowell's camp at dark last evening. Shields's command is there, but it is so worn that he cannot move before Monday morning, the twentysixth, (26th.) We have so thinned our line to get troops for other places that it was broken yesterday at Front Royal, with a probable loss to us of one (1) regiment infantry, two (2) companies cavalry, putting General Banks in some peril.
“The enemy's forces, under General Anderson, now opposing General McDowell's advance, have, as their line of supply and retreat, the road to Richmond.
“If, in conjunction with McDowell's movement against Anderson, you could send a force from your right to cut off the enemy's supplies from Richmond, preserve the railroad bridges across the two (2) forks of the Pamunkey and intercept the enemy's retreat, you will prevent the army pow opposed to you from receiving an accession of numbers of nearly fifteen thousand (15,000) men; and if you succeed in saving the bridges, you will secure a line of railroad for supplies in addition to the one you now have. Can you not do this almost as well as not, while you are building the Chickahominy bridges ? McDowell and Shields both say they can, and positively will, move Monday morning. I wish you to move cautiously and safely.
" You will have command of McDowell, after he joins you, precisely as you indicated in your long despatch to us of the twenty-first, (21st.)
• A. LINCOLN, President. “ Major General G. B. McCLELLAN.”
This information that McDowell's corps would march for Fredericksburg on the following Monday, (the 26th,) and that he would be under my command, as indicated in my telegram of the 21st, was cheering news, and I now felt confident that we would on his arrival be sufficiently strong to overpower the large army confronting us. - At a later hour on the same day I received the following: .
“MAY 24, 1862.-(from Washington, 4 p. m.) “In consequence of General Banks's critical position, I have been compelled to suspend General McDowell's movements to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper's Ferry, and we are trying to throw General Frémont's force, and part of General McDowell's, in their rear.
"A. LINCOLN, President. “Major General Geo. B. McClellan.”
From which it will be seen that I could not expect General McDowell to join me in time to participate in immediate operations in front of Richmond, and on the same evening I replied to the President that I would make my calculations accordingly.
It then only remained for me to make the best use of the forces at my disposal, and to avail myself of all artificial auxiliaries to compensate as much as possible for the inadequacy of men. I concurred fully with the President in the injunction contained in his telegram of the 24th, that it was necessary with my limited force to move “cautiously and safely." In view of the peculiar character of the Chickahominy, and the liability of its bottom land to sudden inundation, it became necessary to construct between Bottom's bridge and Mechanicsville eleven (11) new bridges, all long and difficult, with extensive log-way approaches.
The entire army could probably have been thrown across the Chickahominy immediately after our arrival, but this would have left no force on the left bank to guard our communications or to protect our right and rear. If the communication with our supply depot had been cut by the enemy, with our army concentrated upou the right bank of the Chickahominy, and the stage of water as it was for many days after our arrival, the bridges carried away, and our means of transportation not furnishing a single day's supplies in advance, the troops must have gone without rations, and the animals without forage, and the army would have been paralyzed.
It is true I might have abandoned my communications and pushed forward towards Richmond, trusting to the speedy defeat of the enemy and the consequent fall of the city for a renewal of supplies; but the approaches were fortified, and the town itself was surrounded with a strong line of intrenchments, requiring a greater length of time to reduce than our troops could have dispensed with rations.
Under these circumstances, I decided to retain a portion of the army on the left bank of the river until our bridges were completed.
It will be remembered that the order for the co-operation of General McDowell was simply suspended, not revoked, and therefore I was not at liberty to abandon the northern approach.
A very dashing and successful reconnoissance was made near New bridge, on the 24th of May, by Lieutenant Bowen, topographical engineers, escorted by the 4th Michigan volunteers and a squadron of the United States cavalry, commanded, respectively, by Colonel Woodbury and Captain Gordon.
Our troops encountered a Louisiana regiment, and with little loss drove it back upon its brigade, killing a large number and capturing several prisoners. Great credit is due to the staff officers, as well as to Colonel Woodbury, Captain Gordon, and their commands, for their conduct on this occasion.
The work upon the bridges was commenced at once, and pushed forward with great vigor; but the rains, which from day to day continued to fall, flooded the valley, and raised the water to a greater height than had been known for, twenty years.
This demolished a great amount of our labor, and our first bridges, with their approaches, which were not made with reference to such extreme high water, were carried off or rendered impassable. We were obliged, with immense labor, to construct others, much longer, more elevated, and stable; our men worked in the water, exposed to the enemy's fire from the opposite bank. On the 25th of May. I received the following telegram.
“WASHINGTON, May 25, 1862. “Your despatch received. General Banks was at Sharpsburg with about six thousand (6,000) men, Shields having been taken from him to swell a column for McDowell to aid you at Richmond, and the rest of his force scattered at various places. Ou the twenty-third (23d) a rebel force of seven (7) to ten thousand (10,000) fell upon one regiment and two companies guarding the bridge at Port Royal, destroying it entirely; crossed the Shenandoah, and on the twenty-fourth, (24th,) yesterday, pushed on to get north of Banks on the
road to Winchester. General Banks ran a race with them, beating them into Winchester yesterday evening. This morning a battle ensued between the two forces, in which General Banks was beaten back into full retreat towards Martinsburg, and probably is broken up into a total rout. Geary, on the Manassas Gap railroad, just now reports that Jackson is now near Front Royal with ten thousand (10,000) troops, following up and supporting, as I understand, the force now pursuing Banks. Also, that another force of ten thousand is near Orleans, following on in the same direction. Stripped bare, as we are here, I will do all we can to prevent them crossing the Potomac at Harper's Ferry or above. McDowell has about twenty thousand of his forces moving back to the vicinity of Port Royal; and Frémont, who was at Franklin, is moving to Harrisonburg; both these movements intended to get in the enemy's rear.
“One more of McDowell's brigades is ordered through here to Harper's Ferry; the rest of his forces remain for the present at Fredericksburg. We are sending such regiments and dribs from here and Baltimore as we can spare to Harper's Ferry, supplying their places in some sort, calling in militia from the adjacent States. We also have eighteen cannon on the road to Harper's Ferry, of which arm there is not a single one at that point. This is now our situation.
"If McDowell's force was now beyond our reach, we should be entirely helpless. Apprehensions of something like this, and no unwillingness to sustain you, has always been my reason for withholding McDowell's forces from you. “Please understand this, and do the best you can with the forces you have.
“A. LINCOLN, President. “ Major General MCCLELLAN.”
On the 25th the following was also received:
“WASHINGTON, May 25, 1862—2 p. m. “The enemy is moving north in sufficient force to drive General Banks before him ; precisely in what force we cannot tell. He is also threatening Leesburg, and Geary on the Manassas Gap railroad, from both north and south; in precisely what force we cannot tell. I think the movement is a general and concerted one, such as would not be if he was acting upon the purpose of a very desperate defence of Richmond. I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job, and come to the defence of Washington. Let me hear from you instantly.
“A. LINCOLN, President. . “Major General McClellan.”
To which I replied as follows:
“Coal HARBOR, May 25, 1862. “Telegram received. Independently of it, the time is very near when I shall attack Richmond. The object of the movement is probably to prevent re-enforcements being sent to me. All the information obtained from balloons, deserters, prisoners, and contrabands, agrees in the statement that the mass of the rebel troops are still in the immediate vicinity of Richmond, ready to defend it. I have no knowledge of Banks's position and force, nor what there is at Manassas; therefore cannot form a definite opinion as to the force against him.
“I have two corps across Chickahominy, within six miles of Richmond; the others on this side at other crossings within same distance, and ready to cross when bridges are completed.
"G. B. MCCLELLAN,
“ Major General, Commanding, “His Excellency A. LINCOLN, President.”