January 31, 1862
Tired of General George B. McClellan’s excuses, President Lincoln issued Special War Order No. 1 designed to push McClellan into action. Advance was ordered on “a point upon the Rail Road South Westward of what is known of Manassas Junction . . . to move before, or on, the 22nd. day of February next,” Aide John Hay later wrote that President Lincoln “wrote it without any consultation and read it to the Cabinet, not for their sanction but for their information. From that time he influence actively the operations of the Campaign. He stopped going to McClellan’s and sent for the General to come to him. Everything grew busy and animated after this order. It was not fully carried out in its details.”
The same day, General George B. McClellan sent President Lincoln an extensive explanation for the lack of forward movement by the Union Army. He began: “I ask you indulgence for the following paper, rendered necessary by circumstances.
I assumed command of the troops in the vicinity of Washington on Saturday July 27 1861, 6 days after the Battle of Bull Run.
I found no army to command, a mere collection of regiments cowering on the banks of the Potomac, some perfectly raw, others dispirited by their recent defeat.
Nothing of any consequence had then 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 & 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 single regiment of cavalry.
Without one day’s delay I undertook the difficult task assigned to me — the task the Hon Secty knows was given to me without my solicitation or foreknowledge. How far I have accomplished it will best be shown by the past & present. The Capital is secure against attack — the extensive fortifications erected by the labor of our troops enable a small garrison to hold it against a numerous army; the enemy have been held in check; the State of Maryland is securely in our possession; the detached counties of Virginia are again within the pale of our laws, & all apprehension of trouble in Delaware is at an end; the enemy are confined to the positions they occupied before 21 July; — more than all this, I have now under my command a well drilled & reliable Army to which the destinies of the country may be confidently committed. This Army is young, & untried in battle, but it is animated by the highest spirit, & is capable of great deeds. That so much has been accomplished, & such an Army created in so short a time from nothing will hereafter be regarded as one of the highest glories of the Administration & the nation.