McClellan's Peninsula Campaign

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At length, however, they began to grow weary of the daily telegram, "All quiet along the Potomac," and the monotonously repeated information that "General McClellan rode out to Fairfax Court House and back this morning." The Confederacy was daily growing stronger, the Potomac was being closed to navigation by the erection of hostile batteries on its southern bank, the enemy's flag was flying within sight from the capital, and the question of foreign interference was becoming exceedingly grave. On November 1st General Scott, then seventy-five years of age, retired, and McClellan succeeded him as General-in-Chief of all the armies.

Soon after this his plans appear, from subsequent revelations, to have undergone important modification. He had undoubtedly intended to attack by moving straight out toward Manassas, where the army that had won the battle of Bull Run was still encamped, and was still commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston. He now began to think of moving against Richmond by some more easterly route, discussing among others the extreme easterly one that he finally took. But, whatever were his thoughts and purposes, his army appeared to be taking root. The people began to murmur, Congress began to question, and the President began to argue and urge. All this did not signify; nothing could move McClellan. He wished to wait till he could leave an enormous garrison in the defences of Washington, place a strong corps of observation along the Potomac, and then move out with a column of one hundred fifty thousand men against an army that he believed to be as numerous as that, though in truth it was then less than half as large. It is now known that, from the beginning to the end of his career in that war, General McClellan constantly overestimated the force opposed to him.

On January 10, 1862, the President held a long consultation with Generals Irvin McDowell and William B. Franklin and some members of his Cabinet. General McClellan was then confined to his bed by an illness of a month's duration. At this consultation Mr. Lincoln said, according to General McDowell's memorandum, "If something was not soon done, the bottom would be out of the whole affair; and if General McClellan did not want to use the army, he would like to borrow it, provided he could see how it could be made to do something."

Immediately upon McClellan's recovery, the President called him to a similar council and asked him to disclose his plan for a campaign, which he declined to do. Finally the President asked him if he had fixed upon any particular time for setting out; and when he said he had, Mr. Lincoln questioned him no further. A few days later, in a letter to the President, he set forth his plan, which was to move his army down the Potomac on transports, land it at or near Fort Monroe, march up the peninsula between York and James rivers, and attack the defences of Richmond on the northern and eastern sides. The President at first disapproved of this plan, largely for the reason that it would require so much time in preparation; but when he found that the highest officers in the army favored it, and considered the probability that any general was likely to fail if sent to execute a plan he did not originate or believe in, he finally gave it his sanction, and once more set himself to the difficult task of inducing McClellan to move at all. And yet the President himself still further retarded the opening of the campaign by delaying the order to collect the means of transportation. Meanwhile General Johnston quietly removed his stores, and on March 8th evacuated Centerville and Manassas, and placed his army before Richmond. This reconciled the President to McClellan's plan of campaign, which he never had liked.

The order for the transportation of McClellan's army was issued on February 27th, and four hundred vessels were required; for there were actually transported one hundred twenty-one thousand men, fourteen thousand animals, forty-four batteries, and all the necessary ambulances and baggage-wagons, pontoons, and telegraph material. Just before the embarkation, the army was divided into four corps, the commands of which were given to Generals Irvin McDowell, Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P. Heintzelman, and Erasmus D. Keyes. High authorities say this was one of the causes of the failure of the campaign; for the army should have been divided into corps long before, when McClellan could have chosen his own lieutenants instead of having them chosen by the President. General Joseph Hooker said it was impossible for him to succeed with such corps commanders. But his near approach to success discredits this criticism.

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