General McClellan Is Relieved of Army Command

March 11, 1862

President Lincoln, long frustrated by the failure of Union armies to attack aggressively, decides to remove General George B. McClellan from command of all the Union armies.   He holds a Cabinet meeting at the White House to review the situation; most Cabinet members are also disgusted with the general’s leadership.  McClellan remains in command of the Army of the Potomac, which was beginning a complicated campaign in Virginia.  At the same time, President Lincoln broadens the command of General Henry W. Halleck in the west.   Several months later, Halleck would be given command of all Union armies.  In the meantime, President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton would provide overall coordination of the armies. The President’s War Order No. 3 stated:

Major-General McClellan having personally taken the field at the head of the Army of the Potomac, until otherwise ordered, he is relieved from the command of the other Military departments, he retaining command of the Department of the Potomac.
Ordered further that the two departments now under the respective commands of Generals Halleck, and Hunter together with so much of that under General Buell as lies West of a North and South line indefinitely drawn through Knoxville, Tennessee, be consolidated, and designated the Department of the Mississippi; and that, until otherwise ordered, Major General Halleck have command of said department.
Ordered also, that the country West of the Department of the Potomac, and East of the Department of the Mississippi be a Military department to be called the Mountain Department; and that the same be commanded by Major General Fremont.
That all the commanders of departments, after the receipt of this order by them respectively, report severally and directly to the Secretary of War, and that prompt, full, and frequent reports will be expected of all and each of them.

That night, President Lincoln meets with some members of Congress to explain his decision.  President Lincoln asked former Governor William Dennison to visit McClellan and inform him of the decision.

Meanwhile, McClellan writes a memo to the War Department making excuses for his recent aborted Harper’s Ferry offensive. “When I started for Harper’s Ferry I plainly stated to the Presdt & the Secty of War that the chief object of the operation would be to open the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, by crossing the river in force at Harper’s Ferry.  That I had collected the material for making a permanent bridge by means of canal boats, that from the nature of the river it was doubtful whether such a bridge could be constructed, that if it could not I would at least occupy the ground in front of Harper’s Ferry, in order to cover the rebuilding of the R.R. bridge, & finally when the communications were perfectly secure move on Winchester.

When I arrived at the place I found the Bateau bridge nearly completed — the holding ground proved better than had been anticipated — the weather was favorable, there being no wind.  I at once crossed over the two brigades which had arrived, & took steps to hurry up the other two, belonging respectively to Banks’ & Sedgwick’s Divisions.  The difficulty of crossing supplies had not then become apparent.  That night I telegraphed for a regt of regular cavalry & four batteries of heavy artillery to come up the next day (Thursday) [February 27]; besides directly Keyes Division of Infantry to be moved up on Friday.
Next morning the attempt was made to pass the canal boats through the lift lock in order to commence at once the construction of a permanent bridge — it was then found for the first time that the lock was too small to permit the passage of the boats, it having been built for a class of boats running on the Shenandoah Canal, & too narrow by some 4 or 6 inches for the canal boats.; The lift locks above & below are all large enough for the ordinary boats — I had seen that at Edward’s Ferry thus used — it had always been represented to the Engineers by the railway employees that the lock was large enough…
Having done this, & taken all the steps in my power to ensure the rapid transmittal of supplies over the river I returned to this City well satisfied with what had been accomplished.  While up the river I learned that the Presdt was dissatisfied with the state of affairs, but on my return have understood from the Secty of War that upon learning the whole state of the case the Presdt was fully satisfied.  I contented myself therefore with giving to the Secty a brief statement, about as I have written it here — he did not even require that much of me.  He was busy — I troubled him as little as possible, & immediately went to work at other important affairs.

Published in: on March 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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