Impact of Union Defeat at Bull Run Felt in Washington

September 1, 1862

“Everything seemed to be going well and hilarious on Saturday & we went to bed expecting glad tidings at sunrise,” writes Lincoln aide John Hay.  “But about eight o’clock the President came to my room as I was dressing and, calling me out, said, “Well, John, we are whipped again, I am afraid.  The enemy reinforced on Pope and drove back his left wing and he has retired to Centreville where he says he will be able to hold his men.  I don’t like that expression.  I don’t like to hear him admit that his men need ‘holding'”

After a while, however, things began to look better and people’s spirits rose as the heavens cleared.  The President was in a singularly defiant tone of mind.  He often repeated, “We must hurt this enemy before it gets away.”  And this morning, Monday, he said to me when I made a remark in regard to the bad look of things, ‘No, Mr. Hay, we must whip these people now.  Pope must fight them.  IF they are too strong for him, he can gradually retire to these fortifications.  If this be not so, if we are really whipped and to be whipped, we may as well stop fighting.'”

Hay also writes:”This morning I walked with the President over to the War Department to ascertain the truth of the report that Jackson had crossed the Potomac.  We went to the telegraph office and found it true.  On the way over the President said, “McClellan is working like a beaver.  He seems to be aroused to doing something, by the sort of snubbing he got last week.  I am of the opinion that this public feeling against him will make it expedient to take important command from him.  The Cabinet yesterday were unanimous against him.  They were all ready to denounce me for it, except Blair.  He has acted badly in this matter, but we must use what tools we have.  There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he.’  I spoke of the general feeling against McClellan as evinced by the Prests mail.  He rejoined, “Unquestionably he has acted badly toward Pope!  He wanted him to fail.  That is unpardonable, but he is too useful just now to sacrifice.’  At another time he said, ‘If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.’'”

McClellan is summoned to the White House and told to help General John Pope in the wake of the Second Battle of Bull Run.  Later, McClellan met again with President Lincoln and General Henry W. Halleck at which time orders were issued placing McClellan in charge of the defense of the nation’s capital.  In his meeting with Halleck, McClellan “suggested to the General-in-Chief the necessity of his going in person or sending one of his personal staff to the army under General Pope, for the purpose of ascertaining the exact condition of affairs.” McClellan writes his wife: “I have only time to tell you that I have been placed in command of Wash & all the garrison etc in the vicinity — to do the best I can with it.  The decisive battle will be fought today near Fairfax C.H.  My Hd Qqtrs are to be in town.  If the squall passes over & Washn is a safe place you shall come on to see me if I can’t get off to see you.”

Within the Cabinet, pressure mounts against General George B. McClellan, who failed to support Union General John Pope’s operations in the battle.  Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase writes in his diary: “On suggestions of Judge Bates, the remonstrance against McClellan, which had been previously signed by Smith, was modified; and, having been further slightly altered on my suggestion, was signed by Stanton, Bates and myself, and afterwards by Smith.  Welles declined to sign it, on the grounds that it might seem unfriendly to the President–though this was the exact reverse of its intent.  He said he agreed in opinion and was willing to express it, personally.  This determined us to await the Cabinet Meeting tomorrow.”  Chase added that there were rumors, however, about McClellan’s reinstatement.

Meantime, McClellan came up on invitation of Halleck, and held personal conference with him and the President.  Soon after, a rumor pervaded the town that McClellan was to resume his full command.  Col. Key called at my house and told me that he supposed such was the fact.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, himself skeptical of Cabinet pressure on President Lincoln, writes in his diary: “Seward and Stanton act in concert, but Seward has opposed or declined being a party to the removal of McClellan, until since [General Henry W.] Halleck was brought here, when Stanton became more fierce and determined.  Seward then gave way and went away.  Chase, who has become hostile to McClellan, is credulous, and sometimes the victim of intrigue; was taken into Stanton’s confidence, made to believe that the opportunity of Seward’s absence should be improved to shake off McClellan, whom they both disliked, by a combined Cabinet movement to control the President, who, until recently has clung to that officer.  It was not difficult, under the prevailing feeling of indignation against McClellan, to enlist Smith.  I am a little surprised that they got Mr. Bates, though he has for some time openly argued the removal of McClellan.  Chase took upon himself to get my name, and then, if possible, Blair was to be brought in.  In all this, Chase flatters himself that he is attaching Stanton to his interest; not but that he is himself sincere in his opposition to McClellan, who was once his favorite, but whom he considers a deserter from his faction and whom he now detests.

I told Chase I thought this paper an improvement on the document of Saturday; was less exceptionable; but I did not like, and could not unite in, the movement; that in a conference with the President I should have no hesitation in saying or agreeing mainly  in what was there expressed; for I am satisfied the earnest men of the country would not be willing McClellan should hereafter have command of our forces in the field, though I could not say what is the feeling of the soldiers.  Reflection had more fully satisfied me that this method of conspiring to influence or control the President was repugnant to my feelings and was not right; it was unusual, would be disrespectful, and would justly be deemed offensive; that the President had called us around him as friends and advisers, with whom he might counsel and consult on all matters affecting the public welfare, not to enter into combination on all matters affecting the public welfare, not to enter into combinations to control him.  Nothing of this kind had hitherto taken place in our intercourse.  That we had not been sufficiently intimate, impressive, or formal perhaps, and perhaps not sufficiently explicit and decisive in expressing our views on some subjects.

Chase disclaimed any movement against the President and thought the manner was respectful and correct.  Said it was designed to tell the President that the Administration must be broken up, or McC. dismissed.  The course he said was unusual, but the case was unusual.  We had, it was true, been too informal in our meeting.  I had, he said, been too reserved in the expression of my views, which he did me the compliment to say were sound, etc.  Conversations, he said, amounted to but little with the President on subjects of this importance.  Argument was useless.  It was like throwing water on a duck’s back.  A more decisive expression must be made and that in writing.

Welles added of McClellan: “Though deprecating his course and call his attention to it, I did not think, as Chase now says he does, and as I hear others say they do, that he was imbecile, a coward, a traitor; but it was notorious that he hesitated, doubted, had not self-reliance, any definite and determined plan, or audacity to act.  He as wanting, in my opinion, in several of the essential requisites of a general in chief command; in short, he was not a fighting general.  These are my present convictions.  Some statements of Stanton and some recent acts indicate failings, delinquencies of a more serious character.  The country is greatly incensed against him, but he has the confidence of the army, I think.”

General George B. McClellan writes his wife: “Last night [August 31] I had just finished a very severe application for a leave of absence when I received a dispatch from Halleck begging me to help him out of the scrape & take command here — of course I could not refuse, so I came over this morning [September 1], mad as a March hare, & had a pretty plain talk with him & Abe — a still plainer one this evening.  The result is that I have reluctantly consented to take command here & try to save the Capital — I don’t know whether I can do it or not & try to save the Capital — I don’t know whether I can do it or not, for things are far gone — I hope I shall succeed…

I will not work so hard again as I used to — for the next few days I must be at it day & night — once the pressure is over I will make the staff do the work.  If when the whole army returns here (if it ever does) I am not placed in command of all I will either insist upon a long leave of absence or resign…

Published in: on September 1, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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