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He found a rebel cavalry regiment near the White Oak swamp bridge, and completely routed it, pursuing well towards Savage’s station.
These important preliminary operations assisted my preparations for the removal of the army to Aquia creek; and the sending off our sick and supplies was pushed both day and night as rapidly as the means of transportation permitted.
On the subject of the withdrawal of the army from Harrison's landing, the following correspondence passed between the general-in-chief and myself, while the reconnoissances towards Richmond were in progress. On the 2d of August I received the following:
“WASHINGTON, August 2, 1862—3.45 p. m. “ You have not answered my telegram of July 30, 8 p. m., about the removal of
your Remove them as rapidly as possible, and telegraph me when they will be out of your way. The President wishes an answer as early as possible.
“H. W. HALLECK,
“Major General. “Major General G. B. MCCLELLAN.”
To which this reply was sent:
“ HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
“ Berkeley, August 3-11 p. m. "Your telegram of (20) second is received. The answer (to despatch of July 30) was sent this morning.
“We have about (12,500) twelve thousand five hundred sick, of whom perhaps (4,000) four thousand might make easy marches. We have here the means to transport (1,200) twelve hundred, and will embark to-morrow that number of the worst cases, with all the means at the disposal of the medical director; the remainder could be shipped in from (7) seven to (10) ten days.
“It is impossible for me to decide what cases to send off, unless I know what is to be done with this army.
"Were the disastrous measures of a retreat adopted, all the sick who cannot march and fight should be despatched by water.
“Should the army advance, many of the sick could be of service at the depots. If it is to remain here any length of time, the question assumes still a different phase.
“Until I am informed what is to be done, I cannot act understandingly or for the good of the service. If I am kept longer in ignorance of what is to be effected, I cannot be expected to accomplish the object in view.
“In the mean time I will do all in my power to carry out what I conceive to be your wishes.
“GEO. B. MCCLELLAN,
“Major General, Commanding. Major General H. W. HALLECK,
“ Commanding United States Army, Washington, D. C.”
The moment I received the instructions for removing the sick, I at once gave the necessary directions for carrying them out.
With the small amount of transportation at hand, the removal of the severe cases alone would necessarily take several days, and, in the mean time, I desired information to determine what I should do with the others.
The order required me to send them away as quickly as possible, and to notify the general-in-chief when they were removed.
Previous to the receipt of the despatch of the 2d of August, not having been
advised of what the army under my command was expected to do, or which way it was to move, if it moved at all, I sent the following despatch:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
“Berkeley, August 3, 1862. “I hear of sea steamers at Fort Monroe; are they for removing my sick? If so, to what extent am I required to go in sending them off? There are not many who need go.
“As I am not in any way informed of the intentions of the government in regard to this army, I am unable to judge what proportion of the sick shɔuld leave here, and must ask for specific orders.
“G. B. MCCLELLAN,
Major General, Commanding. “Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Commanding United States Army, Washington.”
If the army was to retreat to Fort Monroe, it was important that it should be unencumbered with any sick, wounded, or other men who might at all fere with its mobility; but if the object was to operate directly on Richmond, from the position we then occupied, there were many cases of slight sickness which would speedily be cured, and the patients returned to duty.
As the service of every man would be important in the event of a forward offensive movement, I considered it to be of the utmost consequence that I should know what was to be done. It was to ascertain this that I sent the despatch of 11 p. m. on the 3d, before receiving the following telegram :
“WASHINGTON, August 3, 1862–7.45 p. m. “I have waited most anxiously to learn the result of your forced reconnoissance towards Richmond, and also whether all your sick have been sent away, and I can get no answer to my telegram.
“It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Aquia creek. You will take immediate measures to effect this, covering the movement the best you can.
Its real object and withdrawal should be concealed even from your own officers.
“Your material and transportation should be removed first. You will assume control of all the means of transportation within your reach, and apply to the naval forces for all the assistance they can render you. You will consult freely with the commander of these forces. The entire execution of the movement is left to your discretion and judgment.
“You will leave such forces as you may deem proper at Fort Monroe, Norfolk, and other places, which we must occupy.
“H. W. HALLECK, Major General, Commanding United States Army. “Major General Geo. B. McCLELLAN.”
I proceeded to obey this order with all possible rapidity, firmly impressed, however, with the conviction that the withdrawal of the army of the Potomac from Harrison's landing, where its communications had by the co-operation of the gunboats been rendered perfectly secure, would, at that time, have the most disastrous effect upon our cause.
I did not, as the commander of that army, allow the occasion to pass without distinctly setting forth my views upon the subject to the authorities in the following telegram :
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Berkeley, August 4, 1862—12 m. “ Your telegram of last evening is received. I must confess that it has caused me the greatest pain I ever experienced, for I am convinced that the order to withdraw this army to Aquia creek will prove disastrous to our cause. I fear it will be a fatal blow. Several days are necessary to complete the preparations for so important a movement as this, and while they are in progress, I beg that careful consideration may be given to my statements.
"This army is now in excellent discipline and condition. We hold a dobouche on both banks of the James river, so that we are free to act in any direction; and with the assistance of the gunboats, I consider our communications
as now secure
“ We are twenty-five (25) miles from Richmond, and are not likely to meet the enemy in force sufficient to fight a battle until we have marched fifteen (15) to eighteen (18) miles, which brings us practically within ten (10) miles of Richmond. Our longest line of land transportation would be from this point twentyfive (25) miles, but with the aid of the gunboats we can supply the army by water during its advance, certainly to within twelve (12) miles of Richmond.
"At Aquia creek we would be seventy-five (75) miles from Richmond, with land transportation all the way.
“ From here to Fort Monroe is a march of about seventy (70) miles, for I regard it as impracticable to withdraw this army and its material, except by land.
6. The result of the movement would thus be a march of one hundred and forty-five (145) miles to reach a point now only twenty-five (25) miles distant, and to deprive ourselves entirely of the powerful aid of the gunboats and water transportation.
“Add to this the certain demoralization of this army which would ensue, the terribly depressing effect upon the people of the north, and the strong probability that it would influence foreign powers to recognize our adversaries; and these appear to me sufficient reasons to make it my imperative duty to urge in the strongest terms afforded by our language that this order may be rescinded, and that far from recalling this army, it may be promptly re-enforced to enable it to resume the offensive.
“ It may be said that there are no re-enforcements available. I point to Burnside's force; to that of Pope, not necessary to maintain a strict defensive in front of Washington and Harper's Ferry; to those portions of the army of the west not required for a strict defensive there. Here, directly in front of this army, is the heart of the rebellion ; it is here that all our resources should be collected to strike the blow which will determine the fate of the nation.
“ All points of secondary importance elsewhere should be abandoned, and every available man brought here; a decided victory here, and the military strength of the rebellion is crushed. It matters not what partial reverses we may meet with elsewhere; here is the true defence of Washington; it is here, on the banks of the James, that the fate of the Union should be decided.
“Clear in my convictions of right, strong in the consciousness that I have ever been, and still am, actuated solely by the love of my country, knowing that no ambitious or selfish motives have influenced me from the commencement of this war, I do now, what I never did in my life before, I entreat that this order may be rescinded.
“If my counsel does not prevail, I will with a sad heart obey your orders to the utmost of my power, directing to the movements, which I clearly foresee will be one of the utmost delicacy and difficulty, whatever skill I may possess. Whatever the result may be—and may God grant that I am mistaken in my forebodings I shall at least have the internal satisfaction that I have written
and spoken frankly, and have sought to do the best in my power to avert disaster from my country.
“G. B. McCLELLAN,
“Major General, Commanding. ajor General H. W. HALLECK, " Commanding United States Army."
Soon after sending this telegram, I received the following, in reply to mine of 11 p. m. of the 3d :
“WASHINGTON, August 4, 1862—12.45 p. m. “My telegram to you of yesterday will satisfy you in regard to future operations; it was expected that you would have sent off your sick, as directed, without waiting to know what were or would be the intentions of the government réspecting future movements.
“The President expects that the instructions which were sent you yesterday, with his approval, will be carried out with all possible despatch and caution. The Quartermaster General is sending to Fort Monroe all the transportation he can collect.
“H. W. HALLECK,
“ Major General. "Major General G. B. MCCLELLAN." To which the following is my reply:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Berkeley, August 5, 1862—7 a. m. "Your telegram of yesterday received, and is being carried out as promptly as possible. With the means at my command, no human power could have moved the sick in the time you say you expected them to be moved.
“GEO. B. MCCLELLAN,
• Major General. “Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Commanding United States Army.”
My efforts for bringing about a change of policy were unsuccessful, as will be seen from the following telegram and letter received by me in reply to mine of 12 m. of the 4th :
“WASHINGTON, August 5, 1862—12 m. “ You cannot regret the order of the withdrawal more than I did the necessity of giving it. It will not be rescinded, and you will be expected to execute it with all possible promptness.
It is believed that it can be done now without serious danger. This may not be so, if there should be any delay. I will write you my views more fully by mail.
“H. W. HALLECK,
Major General, Commanding United States Army. “Major General G. B. MCCLELLAN." The letter was as follows:
“HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
“Washington, August 6, 1862. “GENERAL: Your telegram of yesterday was received this morning, and I immediately telegraphed a brief reply, promising to write you more fully by mail.
You, general, certainly could not have been more pained at receiving my order than I was at the necessity of issuing it. I was advised by high officers, in whose judgment I had great confidence, to make the order immediately on my arrival here, but I determined not to do so until I could learn your wishes from a personal interview. And even after that interview I tried every means in my power to avoid withdrawing your army, and delayed my decision as long as I dared to delay it.
“I assure you, general, it was not a hasty and inconsiderate act, but one that caused me more anxious thoughts than any other of my life. But after full and mature consideration of all the pros and cons, I was reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the order must be issued—there was to my mind no alternative.
“Allow me to allude to a few of the facts in the case.
“You and your officers at one interview estimated the enemy's forces in and around Richmond at two hundred thousand men. Since then, you and others report that they have received and are receiving large re-enforcements from the south. General Pope's army, covering Washington, is only about forty thousand. Your effective force is only about ninety thousand. You are thirty miles from Richmond, and General Pope eighty or ninety, with the enemy directly between you ready to fall with his superior numbers upon one or the other as he may elect; neither can re-enforce the other in case of such an attack.
“If General Pope's army be diminished to re-enforce you, Washington, Maryland, and Pennsylvania would be left uncovered and exposed. If your force be reduced to strengthen Pope, you would be too weak to even hold the position you now occupy, should the enemy turn round and attack you in full force. In other words, the old army of the Potomac is split into two parts, with the entire force of the enemy directly bećween them. They cannot be united by land without exposing both to destruction, and yet they must he united. To send Pope's forces by water to the Peninsula is, under present circumstances, a military impossibility. The only alternative is to send the forces on the Peninsula to some point by water, say Fredericksburg, where the two armies can be united.
“Let me now allude to some of the objections which you have urged: you say that the withdrawal from the present position will cause the certain demoralization of the army which is now in excellent discipline and condition.'
“I cannot understand why a simple change of position to a new and by no means distant base will demoralize an army in excellent discipline, unless the officers themselves assist in that demoralization, which I am satisfied they will not.
“Your change of front from your extreme right at Hanover Court House to your present condition was over thirty miles, but I have not heard that it demoralized your troops, notwithstanding the severe losses they sustained in effecting it.
“A new base on the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg brings you within about sixty miles of Richmond, and secures a re-enforcement of forty or fifty thousand fresh and disciplined troops.
“The change with such advantages will, I think, if properly represented to your army, encourage rather than demoralize your troops. Moreover, you yourself suggested that a junction might be effected at Yorktown, but that a flank march across the isthmus would be more hazardous than to retire to Fort Monroe.
“You will remember that Yorktown is two or three miles further than Fredericksburg is. Besides, the latter is between Richmond and Washington, and covers Washington from any attack of the enemy.
“The political effect of the withdrawal may at first be unfavorable; but I think the public are beginning to understand its necessity, and that they will have much more confidence in a united army than in its separated fragments.